WESTSIDER CLEVELAND AMORY
Author, radio humorist, and president of the Fund for Animals
EASTSIDER MAXENE ANDREWS
An Andrews Sister finds stardom as a solo
WESTSIDER LUCIE ARNAZ
To star in Neil Simon's new musical
EASTSIDER ADRIEN ARPEL
America's best-selling beauty author
WESTSIDER ISAAC ASIMOV
Author of 188 books
WESTSIDER GEORGE BALANCHINE
Artistic director of the New York City Ballet
WESTSIDER CLIVE BARNES
Drama and dance critic
WESTSIDER FRANZ BECKENBAUER
North America's most valuable soccer player
WESTSIDER HIMAN BROWN
Creator of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater
Creator, writer and producer of Waste Meat News
EASTSIDER SAMMY CAHN
WESTSIDER HUGH CAREY
Governor of New York state
WESTSIDER CRAIG CLAIBORNE
Food editor of the New York Times
WESTSIDER MARC CONNELLY
Actor, director, producer, novelist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist
EASTSIDER TONY CRAIG
Star of The Edge of Night
EASTSIDER RODNEY DANGERFIELD
The comedian and the man
WESTSIDER JAN DE RUTH
Painter of nudes and Time covers
WESTSIDER MIGNON DUNN
The Met's super mezzo
EASTSIDER DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS JR.
A man for all seasons
WESTSIDER LEE FALK
Creator of The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician
WESTSIDER BARRY FARBER
Radio talkmaster and linguist
WESTSIDER SUZANNE FARRELL
Star of the New York City Ballet
WESTSIDER JULES FEIFFER
Screenwriter for Popeye the Sailor
EASTSIDER GERALDINE FITZGERALD
Actress, director and singer
EASTSIDER JOAN FONTAINE
Actress turns author with No Bed of Roses
WESTSIDER BETTY FRIEDAN
Founder of the women's liberation movement
WESTSIDER ARTHUR FROMMER
Author of Europe on $10 a Day
EASTSIDER WILLIAM GAINES
Publisher and founder of Mad magazine
WESTSIDER RALPH GINZBURG
Publisher of Moneysworth
EASTSIDER LILLIAN GISH
78 years in show business
WESTSIDER MILTON GLASER
Design director of the new Esquire
WESTSIDER PAUL GOLDBERGER
Architecture critic for the New York Times
EASTSIDER MILTON GOLDMAN
Broadway's super agent
EASTSIDER TAMMY GRIMES
Star of Father's Day at the American Place Theatre
|WESTSIDER CLEVELAND AMORY||[Back to Top]|
It's impossible to mistake the voice if you've heard it once -- the tone of mock annoyance, the twangy, almost whiny drawl that rings musically in the ear. It could easily belong to a cartoon character or a top TV pitchman, but it doesn't. It belongs to Cleveland Amory, an affable and rugged individualist who has been a celebrated writer for more than half of his 61 years. Amory is also a highly regarded lecturer and radio essayist: his one-minute humor spot, Curmudgeon at Large, is heard daily from Maine to California. His latest novel, nearing completion, is due to be published next fall.
TV Guide perhaps brought Amory his widest fame. He was the magazine's star columnist from 1963 to 1976, when he gave it up in order to devote his time to other projects, especially the Fund for Animals, a non-profit humane organization that he founded in 1967. He has served as the group's president since the beginning; now it has 150,000 members across the United States. Amory receives no pay for his involvement with the organization.
The national headquarters of the Fund for Animals is a suite of rooms in an apartment building near Carnegie Hall. The central room is lined with bookshelves, and everywhere on the 25-foot walls are pictures and statues of animals. Amory enters the room looking utterly exhausted. He is a tall, powerful-looking man with a shock of greyish brown hair that springs from his head like sparks from an electrode. As we sit back to talk and his two pet cats walk about the office, his energy seems to recharge itself.
Amory's quest to protect animals from needless cruelty began several decades ago when, as a young reporter in Arizona, he wandered across the border into Mexico and witnessed a bullfight. Shocked that people could applaud the death agony of "a fellow creature of this earth," he began to join various humane societies. Today he is probably the best-known animal expert in America. His 1974 best-seller, Man Kind? Our Incredible War On Wildlife, was one of only three books in recent years to be the subject of an editorial in the New York Times -- the others being Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed.
"A lot of people ask me, `Why not do something about children, or old people, or minorities?'" he begins, lighting a cigarette and propping one foot on the desk. "My feeling is that there's enough misery out there for anybody to work at whatever he wants to. I think the mark of a civilized person is how you treat what's beneath you. Most people do care about animals. But you have to translate their feelings into action. ... We're fighting a lot of things -- the clubbing of the baby seals, the killing of dolphins by the tuna fishermen, the poisoning of animals. The leghold trap is illegal in 14 countries of the world, but only in five states in the U.S.
"The reason this fight is so hard is that man has an incredible ability to rationalize his cruelty. When they kill the seals, they say it's a humane way of doing it. But I don't see anything humane about clubbing a baby seal to death while his mother is watching, helpless.
"One of our biggest fights right now is to make the wolf our national mammal. There's only about 400 of them left in the continental United States. The wolf is a very brave animal. It's monogamous, and it has great sensitivity."
One of his chief reasons for dropping his TV Guide column, says Amory, was because "after 15 years of trying to decide whether the Fonz is a threat to Shakespeare, I wanted to write about things that are more important than that." His latest novel, a satirical work that he considers the finest piece of writing he has ever done, "is basically a satire of club life in America. ... I sent it down to a typist here, and it came back with a note from the typist saying, `I love it!' In all my years of writing, I don't think I've ever had a compliment like that. So I sent the note to my editor along with the manuscript."
An expert chess player, he was long ranked number one at Manhattan's Harvard Club until his recent dethronement at the hands of a young woman. "I play Russians whenever I get a chance," he confides. "I always love to beat Russians. I want to beat them all." Once he played against Viktor Korchnoi, the defected Soviet who narrowly lost to world champion Anatoly Karpov this fall.
"I think he threw that final game," says Amory of Korchnoi's loss. "He didn't make a single threatening move. I think he was offered a deal to get the kid and wife out. It was all set up from the beginning. I hate facts, so I don't want any facts to interfere with my thesis."
Born outside of Boston, he showed his writing talent early, becoming the youngest editor ever at the Saturday Evening Post. His first book, The Proper Bostonians, was published in 1947. "Then I moved to New York," he muses, "because whenever I write about a place, I have to leave it." Nineteen years ago, he took on as his assistant a remarkable woman named Marian Probst, who has worked with him ever since. Says Amory: "She knows more about every project I've been involved with than I know myself."
A longtime Westsider, he enjoys dining at the Russian Tea Room (150 W. 57th St.).
There are so many facets to Cleveland Amory's career and character that he defies classification. In large doses, he can be extremely persuasive. In smaller doses, he comes across as a sort of boon companion for everyman, who provides an escape from the woes of modern society through his devastating humor. For example, his off-the-cuff remark about President Carter:
"Here we have a fellow who doesn't know any more than you or I about how to run the country. I'm surprised he did so well in the peanut business."
|EASTSIDER MAXENE ANDREWS||[Back to Top]|
Maxene Andrews, riding high on the wave of her triumphant solo act that opened at the Reno Sweeney cabaret last November, is sitting in her dimly lit, antique-lined Eastside living room, talking about the foibles of show business. As one of the Andrews Sisters, America's most popular vocal trio of the 1940s, she made 19 gold records in the space of 20 years. But as a solo performer, she more or less failed in two previous attempts -- first in the early 1950s, when her younger sister Patty temporarily left the group, and again in 1975, after her hit Broadway show Over Here closed amid controversy. Not until 1979 did Miss Andrews bring together all the elements of success -- good choice of songs, interesting patter between numbers, and a first-rate accompanist. The result is an act that is nostalgic, moving, and musically powerful.
"For years, our career was so different than so many, because our fans never forgot us," she recalls, beaming with matronly delight. "I could walk in anyplace in the years I wasn't working, and they'd say, `Maxene Andrews -- the Andrews Sisters?' Everybody was sort of in awe. So I was always treated like a star of some kind. But it's nice to work; it's a wonderful feeling to be in demand."
She is a bubbly, husky, larger-than-life character of 61 with ruddy cheeks and a firm handshake. Deeply religious, sincere, and outspoken as always, she remains first and foremost an entertainer.
"I stick to the older, standard songs by great composers," says Maxene of her act. "You know -- Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin. ... My partner is Phil Campanella, an extremely talented young man who plays the piano and sings harmony. ... All the talking I do between the songs is ad-libbing. I have never been successful at trying to do material that was written for me."
She's returning to Reno Sweeney on February 6 for a two-week engagement, then filming a TV show titled G.I. Jive before taking her act to Miami and Key West. Nightclub work, she says in her high, bell-clear voice, "is not my future. I would like to get into concerts and I think that's a possibility -- probably a year from now."
LaVerne, the eldest of the sisters, died in 1967. Patty stopped speaking to Maxene five years ago because of salary disagreements for Over Here. The contracts were negotiated separately, and when Maxene balked at accepting $1000 a week less than her sister, the national tour was abruptly canceled.
"I never in my wildest dreams thought that we would separate, because we've always been very close," says Maxene sadly. "When people say, `You're feuding with your sister,' I say that's not the truth. Because it takes two people to fight, and I'm not fighting anyone. She's just not talking to me.
"It took me a long time to be able to handle the separation. I used to wake up every morning and say, `What have I done?' But now I just throw it up to Jesus, and I leave it there. I hope and pray that one of these days we can bring everything out in the open, and clear it up. I love Patty very much, and I'm very surprised that she's not out doing her act, because she's very very talented. She's been doing the Gong Show, which I -- it's none of my business, but I would highly disapprove of. I think it's such a terrible show."
Maxene owns a house outside of Los Angeles, and was "born again" a couple of years ago at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. When she's on Manhattan's East Side, which is often, she shares the apartment of Dr. Louis Parrish, an M.D. and psychiatrist whom she describes as "a true Southern gentleman."
The Andrews Sisters, who recorded such hits as "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," "Rum and Coca Cola," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," "Apple Blossom Time," and "Hold Tight," arrived in New York from Minneapolis in 1937 and took the city by storm with their wholesome, sugar-sweet harmonies and innovative arrangements. Soon they were making movies as well. Buck Privates (1940, which featured Abbott and Costello and the song "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," was Universal's biggest moneymaker until Jaws came along in 1975. "I didn't particularly care for making movies," comments Maxene. "I found it very boring and very repetitious, and certainly not very creative. But working with Bud and Lou was a lot of fun."
Now divorced, Maxene has a 33-year-old daughter named Aleda and a 31-year-old son, Peter, who live in Utah. She has written her autobiography, but it hasn't been sold to a publisher "because I refuse to write the kind of books that they want written today. Ever since the Christina Crawford book came out, that's all the publishers want. ... I think the trend will pass, because we're really getting saturated in cruelty and lust and whatever else you want to call it."
Asked about the changes in her life since her religious reawakening, Maxene says, "Darling, everything has improved. My disposition has improved. I used to be impossible for anybody to work with. ... I'm now reconciled to the feeling that I am never alone, and that in Him I have a partner, and that if I run into a problem that I can't solve, then I'm not supposed to solve it -- because we're just mere mortals."
|WESTSIDER LUCIE ARNAZ||[Back to Top]|
Bad timing. That's what had plagued me ever since I had tried to get an interview with Lucie Arnaz last June. Back then, I was supposed to get together with her downtown, but our meeting was canceled at the last minute. My second appointment, set for August 31 in her dressing room just before a performance of Annie Get Your Gun at the Jones Beach Theatre in Wantagh, Long Island, now seemed in jeopardy as well. I was kept waiting nervously outside while the house manager insisted that Lucie was engaged in "a very important telephone call."
But when the young star finally emerged, her face beaming with delight, I found that my timing could not have been better. Lucie had just received official word that a major new Broadway role was hers. As we sat down to talk, Lucie was in one of those radiant moods that come only in times of triumph. She had been chosen for the female lead in a new musical, They're Playing My Song, which is scheduled to open in Los Angeles in December and on Broadway in February. The show has music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. The book is written by Neil Simon.
"I'm a lousy auditioner -- at least, I thought I was," grinned Lucie. "This new musical will be probably the pinnacle of what I've been aiming for. ... It's about a fairly successful lyricist who's not nearly as successful as the composer she's going to work with. Neil Simon has always wanted to do a play about songwriters. It's a very hip, pop musical. It doesn't have regular Broadway-type tunes."
She flopped back on the sofa touching my arm from time to time for emphasis, and chatted on in her mildly raspy voice. Finally she moved to a seat in front of the mirror and invited me to keep talking while she put on her makeup. There is a quality about her that suggests toughness, but this impression melts away under her girlish charm. At 27, Lucie is already an 11-year veteran of professional acting and singing. When she performed at Jones Beach this summer, up to 8,000 people per night came to see her.
Lucie first transplanted herself from the West Coast to the West Side on a full-time basis last winter, although, she admitted, "I had a New York apartment for four years which I would visit every couple of months. For some sick reason, I really like New York. There's a lot of crazy people doing strange things on the streets, but there's also a lot of creative forces here.
"I went to do an interview this morning for my radio show and it started raining. By the time I had walked six blocks I was looking terrible, and it suddenly occurred to me that I would never present myself like that in California. In New York, who gives a damn if you've got water on you when you come to work? On the West Coast, the things that aren't important they seem to put on pedestals." Her radio show, which she started this year, is a nationally syndicated five-minute interview spot called Tune In With Lucie.
From 1967 to 1972 she was a regular on her mother's TV show, Here's Lucy. She has made countless guest appearances on other shows, and performed lead roles in numerous musicals. Her parents, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Sr., were divorced more than a decade ago and have both remarried.
"My mother was here for opening night, then she stayed a couple of days in New York. But she gets too lonely when my brother Desi and I go away for too long. He was here for most of the summer. He was doing a movie called How To Pick Up Girls. He played the guy who supposedly knew all about it -- one of the two stars. He said, "It's funny, I meet girls on the street, and New York has the most beautiful girls in the world, and when they ask me what I'm doing here and I tell them the name of the movie, they walk away and say, `You dirty toad!'" Desi also plays the groom in the new Robert Altman film, A Wedding.
"My father is now putting an album together of the music that was recorded for the old Lucy Show. Salsa music is coming back now, so he's been asked to make an album of those tapes."
Speaking of her hobbies, Lucie noted that "recently I started to build a darkroom in my house. The key word is started. It's hard to get the time. ... And I have been writing songs for the last couple of years. I'm a lyricist. I've sung them on things like Mike Douglas and Dinah."
She enjoys all of New York, though at one time "the East Side gave me the ooga boogas. Then I found a couple of places there that were nice." On the West Side, she likes to dine at La Cantina, Victor's Cafe, and Ying, all on Columbus Avenue near 71st and 72nd Streets.
When the five-minute warning sounded in her dressing room, Lucie had to turn me out, but not before she divulged her philosophy about show business. "Am I ambitious?" she echoed. "I don't know. There are people who are willing to really knock the doors down and do just about anything to get there. I'm not like that. Even now, when I go to the market, people come up to me and say, `Aren't you. ... ?' So I can imagine what it would be like to be a superstar. No, I'm not really looking forward to that."
|EASTSIDER ADRIEN ARPEL||[Back to Top]|
As a young girl in Englewood, New Jersey, Adrien Arpel was determined that one day she would transform herself into a beautiful woman. After having her nose bobbed, she began to pester the ladies behind every cosmetic counter she could reach, and by the time she graduated from high school at 17, she knew more than they did. That same year she opened a small cosmetics shop in her hometown with $400 earned from baby-sitting. Today, at 38, she is the president of a $12 million-a-year company selling more than 100 beauty products throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Not content with mere business success, she recently turned her talent to writing her first book, Adrien Arpel's Three-Week Crash Makeover/Shapeover Beauty Program (1977). It was on the New York Times' best-seller list for six months, and is still selling briskly in paperback. Miss Arpel received $275,000 from Pocket Books for the reprint rights -- the most ever for a beauty book.
"I have always been a rebel," she proclaims regally, dressed in a stylish Edwardian outfit with padded shoulders at her midtown office. Quite heavily made up, with hot pink lipstick and a Cleopatra hairdo, she looks considerably younger than her age. The strident quality of her voice is reminiscent of a Broadway chorus girl's, yet is delivered in a crisp, businesslike manner. During the interview she rarely smiles or strays from the question being asked. For some reason, she declines to say much about her new book, How to Look 10 Years Younger, which is scheduled for publication in April. Instead, she stresses the simple, common-sense rules about beauty that have guided her career from the beginning.
Probably her two most important innovations are her exclusive use of nature-based, chemical-free products (chosen from leading European health spas) and her policy of try-before-you-buy makeup. Complimentary makeup is offered every time a customer gets a facial at one of the hundreds of Adrien Arpel salons, such as those on the first floor of Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Whenever she opens a new salon, Adrien spends the entire day on her feet, doing upwards of 35 facials with her own pale, delicate hands.
Upon being complimented for her attire, Miss Arpel gasps, "Thank you!" with schoolgirlish delight. There is something almost surreal in her creamy white complexion. "I think sunbathing is absolutely deadly, and that there is no reason in the world for a woman to sunbathe," she says. Moments later, she admits that "high heel shoes are not very good for you," but that she wears them anyway, "because they're very fashionable. They are something that really can be a problem -- if they're pitched wrong. If you have a good shoe and it's pitched well, you shouldn't have a problem"
Does she think it would be a good idea for women to give up high heels altogether? "No, no. I don't think you'll ever get women to give up fashion. So we can tell what's problems, what's really hazardous, what's going to be injurious to your health, and what's going to just hurt a little bit."
She never thought of writing a book until about four years ago, says Arpel, because "every second when I was away from my business, I spent with my daughter. Now my daughter's 16 and a half, and has a boyfriend, and goes out, and doesn't want to spend every minute with me. This all started when she was about 13." Adrien and her husband, manufacturer Ronald Newman, moved to the New York metropolitan area right after they were married in 1961, and acquired an Upper East Side apartment last summer.
For her own health and beauty regimen, Adrien begins her typical day with jumping rope. She thinks weight training for women is "terrific," but considers jogging the best all-around exercise. "Now, jogging has its negatives. I get up very early in the morning, and if you jog while it's still dark out, it can be dangerous. I also have long hair, and you have to wash your hair after you jog. So for someone that works, I find that I can only do it three days a week."
She has a facial twice weekly. "Facials are not luxuries. They are necessities to peel off dead surface skin. ... Air pollution is the reason. If it wears away stone on buildings, think what it can do to the skin." A facial, she explains, consists of "all different sorts of hand massages to deep-cleanse the skin with coconut-like milk, or some sort of sea kelp cleanser. Then there's a skin vacuum which takes blackheads out -- electric brushes with honey and almond scrubs which clean out the pores. And at the end, a mask. Nature-based again -- orange jelly, sea mud, or spearmint."
Arpel believes that a woman's makeup should be largely determined by her profession. She reveals a humorous side when asked whether a woman stockbroker, for example, should always dress conservatively. "Well, if she was wearing a see-through blouse and no bra in her office, I'd certainly think she had poor taste," she laughs.
A nonsmoker who consumes little alcohol, she confesses to at least one vice: "I drink two cups of coffee in the morning, sometimes more. Also not wonderfully good for you -- but I never said I was a hundred percent good."
|WESTSIDER ISAAC ASIMOV||[Back to Top]|
In 1965, when the Science Fiction Writers of America held a national convention to vote on the best science fiction ever published in this country, they sifted through hundreds of nominations dating back to the 1920s before coming up with the winners. Nightfall (1941) received the most votes for a short story and the Foundation trilogy won for the best series of novels. The author of both works: Westsider Isaac Asimov.
Had Asimov died 25 years ago, his fame would still be secure. But he remains more active than ever. He is, among other things, one of the most prolific authors in the world, publishing an average of one book and three or four magazine articles per month.
He is sitting at an electric typewriter in his West 66th Street penthouse when the doorman informs him that two visitors have arrived. Asimov is expecting a single reporter; but he says OK, so my roommate John Cimino and I get on the elevator. We stop at the 33rd floor. Asimov, clad in his undershirt, meets us at the door, hangs up our coats, and takes us into the living room adjacent to his working area. Along one wall is a glass-enclosed bookcase containing the 188 books Asimov has written in his 40-year literary career.
"This is my section of the apartment," he says. "The blinds are down because I always work by artificial light." I tell him that John has come along to ask questions about science -- Asimov is an expert in more than 20 scientific disciplines -- while I will be asking about science fiction Asimov complies, and after about 10 minutes, he opens us completely and gives each answer with enthusiasm.
He has lost a little weight recently, and in fact had a mild heart attack earlier this year, but Dr. Asimov is as creative as ever --perhaps more so. One of his latest projects is Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. It first appeared on the newsstands early in 1977 and has since built up a broad readership throughout the U.S., Canada and Great Britain.
"It was the idea of Joel Davis of Davis Publications," says Asimov. "He publishes Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and many others. He decided that science fiction was doing well and that he wanted a science fiction magazine -- something with the name of someone, like Ellery Queen. ... He asked me if I was interested. ... I wasn't really, because I had neither the time nor the inclination to edit the magazine."
Asimov found the time. He and Davis worked out a formula for the author to lend his name and picture to the magazine cover and to become the editorial director. Asimov writes the editorials and some of the fiction, answers readers' letters and helps with the story selection. George Scithers, the editor, has a major role in deciding the magazine's contents.
Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine began as a quarterly and if all goes well, will soon become a monthly. Some of its contributors are writers in their 20s who are publishing their first stories. Containing many illustrations and almost no advertising, the 200-page magazine is available at numerous Westside newsstands for $1.
Born in Russia and raised in Brooklyn, Asimov graduated from college and published his first short story while in his teens. For many years, he taught biochemistry at Boston University. In 1970, he returned to New York and settled on the West Side. He is married to a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who practices under her maiden name of Dr. Janet Jeppson; her office is on the opposite end of the apartment. She too is a writer, having published a science fiction novel and some stories.
"The West Side, as far as I'm concerned, has more good restaurants than any other place on earth, though I have not been to Paris," says Asimov, who hates flying. He made a trip to Europe last year on the Queen Elizabeth II -- and came back on the return voyage. "It wasn't a vacation," he says. "I gave two talks each way and I wrote a book."
The IRS, he says, cannot believe that he doesn't take vacations. "In the last seven years," he testifies, there has been only one time two days in June of 1975 -- that I went on a trip and didn't do a talk. And even then, I took some paper with me and worked on a murder mystery. You see, a vacation is doing what you want to do and to stop doing what you have to do. .. But I like what I, so I'm on vacation 365 days a year."
Asimov's biggest writing project these days is his massive autobiography, which he expects to finish by the end of the year. "It will probably be in two volumes," says Asimov, grinning, "which is unreasonable, considering that I have led a very quiet life and not much has happened to me."
* * *ISAAC ASIMOV: LITERARY WORKAHOLIC
from The Westsider, 12-1-77
Morning has come to the West Side. In a penthouse high above 66th Street, a middle-aged man enters his study, pulls down the shades and fills the room with artificial light. Reference books at his elbow, he sits down at his electric typewriter and begins to tap out sentences at the rate of 90 words per minute. Fourteen hours later, his day's work complete, Dr. Isaac Asimov turns off the machine.
In such a way has Asimov spent most of the past seven years, ever since he moved to the West Side from Boston. In a 40-year literary career stretching back to his teens, he has written and published 188 books, including science fiction, science fact, history, mystery, and even guides to Shakespeare and the Bible. Asimov has also written more than 1,000 magazine and newspaper articles, book introductions and speeches.
Though his pen has never been silent since he sold his first piece of fiction to Amazing Stories in 1939, Asimov is now enjoying the most productive period of his career. Since 1970 he has written 85 books -- an average of one per month. He does not dictate his books; nor does he have a secretary. Asimov personally answers some 70 fan letters per week, and he gives speeches frequently. He also finds time for the press.
The following interview took place on a morning late in October 1977 in the sitting room adjoining his study. Along one wall was a bookcase approximately 6 by 8 feet containing Asimov's collected works.
Question: Dr. Asimov, have you set any goals for yourself for the next 10 years or so?
Asimov: I'm afraid I don't generally look ahead. Right now my autobiography is the big project. ... I have no ambition whatsoever outside of my writing. I expect to write as long as I stay alive.
Q: Could you say something about your autobiography?
A: It's longer than I thought it would be. As soon as I get you out I'm going to deliver pages 1374 to 1500 to Doubleday. I'm hoping to get it finished by the end of the year. ... It will probably be in two volumes -- which is unreasonable, considering that I've led a very quiet life and not much has happened to me. I guess the only thing is that I tend to go on and on when I'm on my favorite subject.
Q: What made you choose the West Side to live?
A: I can't honestly say I chose the West Side. When I came to New York in 1970, I lived where I could, which happened to be the West Side. But now that I'm here, I like it. I was brought up in New York and went to Columbia. ... I've always identified myself with Manhattan. My publishers -- almost all of them are in Manhattan. Taxis are available at any time. The West Side, as far as I'm concerned, has more good restaurants within walked distance than any other place on earth, though I have not been to Paris. I have learned to tolerate the traffic and the pollution and the litter. When I go to the East Side it looks dull by comparison.
Q: I see that your science fiction story "Nightfall" has been made into a record album. And I also remember the movie version of your Fantastic Voyage. Do you have plans for making movies or recordings out of your other science fiction works -- for example, the Foundation series?
A: Fantastic Voyage was the other way around; my book was made from the picture. ... The Foundation series has been turned into a radio show in Great Britain. There have been other stories of mine which were turned into radio shows in the 1950s. I have several pictures under option. Whether anything will turn up in the future I don't know, and to be perfectly honest, I don't care. I am perfectly happy with my writing career as it is. I have complete control over my books. When something is put into the movies it can be changed, often for the worse. I might get nothing out of it but money, and I have enough money to get by.
Q: How did the new Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction magazine get started?
A: It was the idea of Joel Davis of Davis Publications. He publishes Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and many others. He decided that science fiction was doing well and he wanted a science fiction magazine -- something with the name of someone. He had seen me, because I had brought in some stories for Ellery Queen. He asked me if I was interested. ... I wasn't really, because I had neither the time nor the inclination to edit the magazine. So he hired George Scithers to be the editor and made me the editorial director. ... It's been a quarterly to begin with. The fifth issue, which will go on sale in December, will be the first of the bimonthly issues. After the second year it will be a monthly if all things go well.
Q: Could you tell me something about your family life?
A: My wife is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and she has her office in the other end of this apartment. She's the director of training at the William Alanson White Institute on West 74th Street. The name she practices under is Dr. Janet O. Jeppson -- that's her maiden name. It's Mrs. Asimov but Dr. Jeppson. She's also a writer. She's published a science fiction novel and a few short stories and has a mystery novel she's trying to sell.
Q: Do you stimulate her writing by your own work?
A: If anything, I inhibit it. She was a writer for years before she met me. If she weren't married to me, she would probably write more. In fact, I encourage her. But it's hard when your husband writes as fast as he can type and publishes everything he writes.
Q: Do you have any children?
A: Yes, I have two children by my first marriage -- a boy 26 and a girl 22. He's working at a gas station and the girl is a senior at Boston College. ... When she left home at 15, I said the only thing I ask of her was not to smoke. So she's done that. What else she does, I don't know, but she doesn't smoke.
Q: I realize that you are considered an authority in at least 20 branches of science. Have you ever done any original scientific research?
Q: I am still assistant professor of biochemistry at Boston University, though I no longer teach. Yes, I did original research from 1946 to 1958. ... I could not with honesty say I accomplished anything of importance. I am not a first-rank researcher -- perhaps not even a second-rank researcher. It surprised me too. I found that my heart was in writing.
Q: Where do you go for vacation?
A: I don't go on vacation really. I sometimes go off to do a talk and I try to make that a little vacation. I work. In the last seven years there has been only one time -- two days in June of 1975 -- that I didn't do a talk. And even then I took some paper with me and worked on a murder mystery. You see, a vacation is doing what you want to do and to stop doing what you have to do. ... But I like what I do, so I'm on vacation 365 days a year. If I had to play volleyball, fish, etcetera, that would be real work. In fact, the IRS can't believe I don't take vacations. If they can figure out how to write one book a month and still take vacations. ... I do travel, although I never fly. Last year I crossed the ocean on the QEII without stopping. But, I gave two talks each way and I wrote a book.
Q: Since you live within three blocks of Lincoln Center, do you attend the performing arts?
A: I am a very ill-rounded person. I am fascinated by what I do. And what I have done is to try to take all knowledge for my province, but I have tended to concentrate on science, mathematics and history. In regard to art, I can't even say I know what I like.
Q: What do you think of abolishing mandatory retirement, as Congress is considering? What will it be like when people keep working indefinitely?
A: That was the condition until the 1930s. This forced retirement is a product of the Great Depression. We're moving back to a situation that has always existed for mankind, which is to let people work as long as they can. If the birthrate continues to go down the percentage of young people will be smaller. I think that computerization and automation will alter completely the concept of what is work. We're not going to think of jobs the same way as we used to.
Q: Do you think you could ever retire?
A: There might well come a time, if I live long enough, when I can no longer write publishable material. Then I will have to write for my own amusement. Rex Stout's last book was written when he was 88 years old. P.G. Wodehouse was writing pretty well in his early 90s. Agatha Christie was falling off in her 80s. ... I had a heart attack this year. I might keep writing for another 30 years. But if for some reason I am no longer able to write, then it will certainly take all the terrors of dying away, so there will be that silver lining. ... So far, I detect no falling off of my abilities. In fact, this year my story "The Bicentennial Man" won all the awards.
"Is there anything also you'd like to ask me?" Asimov said, when I had run out of questions. At that moment the telephone rang: he told his caller that no, he would, regrettably, be unable to accept an invitation to speak in Virginia because it was too far to go by train. "It's more my loss than yours," he said into the phone.
When I assured Asimov that there were no more questions, he disappeared into his study and emerged with a copy of his latest science fiction book, The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories. He signed it and presented it to me. As he walked me to the elevator he took a peek at his watch. His parting comment was: "Let's see, I have to be downtown at 11:30. That gives me 10 minutes to dress and 10 minutes to write."
|WESTSIDER GEORGE BALANCHINE||[Back to Top]|
To some people he is known as the Shakespeare of dance -- a title that he probably deserves more than anyone else now living. But to his friends and colleagues, he is simply "Mr. B" -- George Balanchine, the ageless Russian-born and trained choreographic genius whose zest for living is matched only by his humility and his sense of humor.
Balanchine has almost single-handedly transplanted ballet to American soil and made it flourish. What's more, he has played the central role in making New York the dance capital of the world, which it undeniably is today for both classical and modern dance.
Now in his 30th consecutive year as artistic director of the New York City Ballet, Mr. B. shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to direct most of the dances for his 92-member company and to create new choreographic works of daring originality. He continues to teach at the School of American Ballet, which he cofounded in 1934 with Lincoln Kirstein. And Balanchine can still, when he chooses, write out the parts for all the instruments of the orchestra. Yet he thinks of himself more as a craftsman than a creator, and often compares his work to that of a cook or cabinetmaker -- two crafts, by the way, in which he is rather skilled.
I meet George Balanchine backstage at the New York State Theatre during an intermission of one of the season's first ballets. It's not hard to guess which man is Balanchine from a distance because, as usual, he is surrounded by young dancers. When he turns to face me, I see that he is dressed simply but with a touch of European elegance. The man is small of stature and quite frail in appearance. His English is strongly accented yet easy to understand. A smile seems to be forever playing on his lips, and when he converses with someone, he gives that person his full, undivided attention.
"Why has dance become so popular in New York?" He gazes at me from the depths of his eyes."I don't know why. People get used to us. It took 30 years to train New York," he says with feeling. "Maybe you can train Los Angeles. You cannot train Boston. You cannot train Philadelphia -- there are too many big men with big cigars."
Soon he is improvising on the theme. "Certainly New York is representative of America. All America should pay taxes in New York to make it beautiful. Because in Europe, everybody wants to be in New York to show off. ... I think that I will suggest to senators and presidents and everybody to pay taxes to New York."
Mr. B, who left his native St. Petersburg in 1924 and spent the next nine years working as a ballet master throughout Europe, was persuaded by the American dance connoisseur Lincoln Kirstein to come to the U.S. in 1933. Since then, Balanchine has toured the world with the New York City Ballet. He finds the home crowd, however, to be the most appreciative.
"We are here 25 weeks," he explains. "It's always packed. In Paris, you cannot last two weeks. In Los Angeles, in London, they do not like the dance so much as here. In San Francisco, there were five people in the audience. We showed them everything. They don't care. They're snobs. They only want a name. In New York, it's different. In New York, they like the thing for itself."
Balanchine does not write down his dances. How, then, does he remember such works as Prodigal Son, which he created almost 50 years ago and revived this season for the New York City Ballet? "How do you remember prayers?" he says in response. "You just remember. Like Pepperidge Farm. I know Pepperidge Farm. I remember everything."
He dislikes excessive terminology. "I used to be a dance director," he says in mock lament. "Now I have become a choreographer. Choreographer is the wrong title. Because dance is like poetry, see?"
Prodigal Son, in which the biblical story is danced out dramatically, is an example of a ballet with a plot. But the majority of Balanchine's works are based purely on music and movement. "The literary thing does not always work," he says. "You cannot move. There's very few stories you can do."
Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky are the composers he most likes to use for new dance works. The late Igor Stravinsky, a fellow Russian expatriate who was his longtime friend and collaborator, once described Balanchine's choreography as "a series of dialogues perfectly complimentary to and coordinated with the dialogues of the music."
In spite of his fondness for Russian composers, Balanchine has no hesitation in naming Fred Astaire as his favorite dancer. "No, I don't use his ideas because he's an individual." says Balanchine. "You cannot use his ideas because only he can dance them. There is nobody like that. People are not like that anymore."
A resident of West 67th Street, Balanchine shows even more than his usual exuberance when speaking of the West Side. "It's the best side. It's like the Rive Gauche (in Paris). We have the best hotels, like the Empire, the best restaurants -- Le Poulailler (W. 65th St.) has such good French cooking."
"We have no strikes here, nothing," he continues, grinning widely. "Everybody's very nice, friendly. They help each other. I invite everybody on the East Side to come here. They don't come because they're snobs. The West Side? It's the cleanest side. Also there is no crime here. There's no police here."
|WESTSIDER CLIVE BARNES||[Back to Top]|
He's still the most famous drama critic in America, if not the world.
His name has not yet disappeared from the subway walls or from the signs in front of the theatres along Broadway. And even though Clive Barnes was recently replaced as the New York Times' drama critic, he remains the most-quoted authority in the newspaper ads. He is still the Times' dance critic. He still does his daily radio spot on theatre for WQXR Radio. He still lectures around the country and writes a column for the London Times. At 50, Barnes does not mind the slightly calmer pace his life has taken.
"I don't know why I was replaced," he says. "Papers have these policy decisions. I suppose they wanted a change. They wanted to split the two desks, dance and drama."
A refined, affable Englishman, Clive Barnes welcomes me into his West End Avenue home and invites me to sit down and have some coffee for five minutes while he puts the finishing touches on an article. His slim, attractive wife Trish and his 15-year-old son Christopher talk to him while he works. Soon the article is finished and he is relaxed in an armchair, ready to answer questions. He holds a pen in his lap and occasionally clicks it as we talk.
"Really, I much prefer New York to London," says Barnes, who spent the first 38 years of his life in the British capital. "I'll never leave New York, ever. When I first came here visiting before I came here to live, I adored it. It's just been a very long love affair between myself and the city."
Born the son of a London ambulance driver, Barnes won a scholarship to Oxford University, and while a student there began to write reviews on theatre and dance. Following graduation, he worked in city planning for 10 years while moonlighting as a critic of theatre, dance, films and music. Thus he built up a reservoir of knowledge in all the major performing arts. In 1965, several years after Barnes got into full-time journalism, he was doing such an impressive job as dance critic for the London Times that the New York Times made him a handsome salary offer to fill the same role for them. Two years later the Times offered him the post of drama critic as well. Barnes kept the dual role until this year, when the "new" New York Times asked him to concentrate strictly on dance.
"Certainly American dance is the most important in the world, and has been for at least 25 years," he says. "The reason for this is that you have a very strong classical tradition, as well as a very strong modern dance tradition. This is the only country in the world that has these two traditions, and they intermesh, so that you have George Balanchine on one side and Martha Graham on the other. This means that American dance is astonishingly rich."
Barnes feels that Americans' television-viewing habits have made them more appreciative of the subtleties of dance movement: "That same kind of visual orientation that has made spectator sports what they are spins off, and spreads over to things like dance." He notes that dance in New York appeals more to the young -- to people who have been reared on television. Broadway audiences, on the other hand, "tend to be menopausal, and opera audiences to be geriatric."
Barnes finds the West Side the ideal place to live because of its proximity to his work. Trish, herself an expert on dance, usually accompanies him to opening-night performances. "We can get to any Broadway theatre in 10 minutes," he says, "or walk to Lincoln Center. I can get to the paper in about 10 minutes. The West Side has changed a little over the years. I think it's gotten rather nice."
On nights off, Barnes enjoys going to the Metropolitan Opera or to a movie. His son Christopher loves rock music and hates drama. He also has a 14-year-old daughter, Maya. The family enjoys dining at many restaurants in the Lincoln Center area, including Le Poulailler on 65th Street near Columbus.
I ask Barnes if he can think of any plays that have been forced to close because of unkind reviews. "That would presume it was an important play which the critics misunderstood and killed," he says. "I don't think this has actually happened. A play that gets awful notices by everyone is not the victim of a vast critical conspiracy. It's usually a bad play. Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party got bad notices in London but it recovered and went on and became successful."
For those who miss Barnes' views on theatre in the Times, his radio broadcast can be heard on WQXR (1560 AM and 96.3 FM) Monday through Friday, right after the 11 p.m. news.
Trish, Clive's biggest supporter, has no complaints about being the wife of a celebrity. "It's very enjoyable, actually," she says with a wide smile. "You meet fascinating people and see all the best things there are to see."
|WESTSIDER FRANZ BECKENBAUER||[Back to Top]|
Last October, when Brazilian soccer virtuoso Pelé played his final game as a professional, nearly 76,000 fans filed into Giant Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey to bid farewell to the man who had almost single-handedly transformed soccer into a major American sport. It was a fitting cap to Pelé's career that his team, the Cosmos, won the North American Soccer League championship last season over 23 other teams.
But while the Brazilian superstar was reaping most of the publicity, one of his teammates, Franz Beckenbauer, was quietly getting things done. It was probably he, more than anyone else, who won the title for the Cosmos -- not by scoring goals, but by controlling the midfield with his pinpoint touch passes and setting up the offense to go in for the shot.
In May, 1977, he shocked the sports world by quitting his West German team, Bayern Munich, and signing a $2.8 million contract to play with the Cosmos for four years. And though he missed one-third of the 1977 season, Franz still received last year's Most Valuable Player award for a league encompassing 600 players from around the world. This season again, thanks largely to his efforts, the Cosmos clinched their division title and are a heavy favorite to repeat their victory in the Soccer Bowl -- the Super Bowl of soccer. This year the Soccer Bowl will be held in Giant Stadium on August 27. To be in that game, the Cosmos must first win in the playoffs, which begin on August 8.
Beckenbauer is so famous in Germany that he finds it impossible to lead a private life there. His fame is well deserved: Franz starred for the West German national team in the 1966 World Cup finals and the 1970 semifinals, and captained the team when it won the World Cup in 1974. During his 12 seasons with Bayern Munich of the German Soccer League, he was named German Footballer of the Year four times and European Footballer of the Year twice, and was runner-up on two other occasions.
But Franz is somewhat of a quiet, shy man, who does not like the limelight. In New York he can be himself, and walk the streets undisturbed, thinking about his wife and three children in Switzerland, who will be joining him this month for a long visit.
I meet Franz on a July afternoon after a practice at Giant Stadium. As we sit talking in the locker room, many of his teammates walk by and wave to him or call his name. He is an extremely popular fellow both on and off the field -- which explains why 72,000 people showed up for a game last May commemorating Franz Beckenbauer Day. With his courtly manners, he has rightfully earned the nickname "Kaiser Franz."
He could speak almost no English when he arrived in New York less than two years ago at the age of 31, but has learned remarkably quickly. "My mind was, soccer in the United States, it's easier to play. But it's not so easy as I expect," he says, in his slightly hesitant but perfectly understandable speech. "You have so different things, like Astroturf. You have to play in the summertime. It's so hot. You have to make big trips, like to Los Angeles. Sometimes it's more difficult to play here than in Europe."
When asked to compare soccer with American football, he says, "You can't compare. It's a much different sport. As an American footballer, you must be not a normal man. You must be maybe 200 pounds, and 6 foot 3, 6 foot 4 or 5. Everybody can play soccer -- big, tall, small -- if he is skilled enough, if he has the brain to play.
"I started when I was 3, 4, 5 years old. I don't know exactly. But you know, after the war, nobody has money. Soccer is the cheapest sport. No courts, nothing. So we all start to play soccer, and after I was 10 years old, I went to a little club in Munich. When I was 13 years old, I moved to Bayern, Munich, and when I was 18, I was a professional."
Franz smiles at the mention of Manhattan. "When I signed the contract, they asked me where I wanted to stay. In the suburbs? I said no, I want to stay in the city. A friend of mine knows a businessman who lives beside the Central Park. He is most of the year outside the country. The apartment was free, and he let me have it for six months. I was very lucky. I like to walk around the park to watch the people. I have been to Lincoln Center a few times, and of course different shows on Broadway. But I never saw a city like New York. You have so many good restaurants. It's unbelievable."
During the off-season, Franz does some promotional work for both Mercedes-Benz and Adidas, the sporting goods company that manufactures, among other things, a Franz Beckenbauer soccer shoe. As a result, Franz, who will be 33 next month, is not at all worried about his future.
"You know, when I started with soccer as a professional," he explains, "I had an aim. I said when I'm finished with soccer, my life will be different. I can say, `I want to do this and this,' and not `I must do this.' When I finish my career, I would like to go through the United States in a mobile with my family, to see all the states. That's for sure."
|WESTSIDER HIMAN BROWN||[Back to Top]|
During the 1930s, a comedy called The Rise of the Goldbergs was second only to Amos & Andy as the most popular radio show in America. Its success was due largely to the efforts of a young man from Brooklyn named Himan Brown, who co-produced the series, sold it to NBC and did the voice of Mr. Goldberg. He had started in radio drama while in his teens, and soon after graduating from Brooklyn Law School as valedictorian, decided to make radio, not law, his career.
During the next three decades, as producer of Inner Sanctum Mysteries, The Thin Man, Grand Central Station, Nero Wolfe and other series, Brown became the Norman Lear of radio. But by 1959, it was all over: the last network radio drama was forced off the air by the onslaught of television. Brown, however, kept up a personal crusade for radio, pounding on the desks of every broadcast executive he could reach. Fourteen years later, in January 1974, his dream was realized, and radio drama was reborn with the CBS Radio Mystery Theater.
The 52-minute show, it turned out, was long overdue. Within weeks, CBS received 200,000 fan letters from listeners. Currently the Radio Mystery Theater can be heard in New York on Monday through Friday at 7:07 p.m. on station WMCA (570 AM). It is heard seven nights a week on approximately 250 other stations across the country. Brown, the producer/director, oversees every phase of the operation, from hiring the writers and actors to directing and recording sessions from a control booth at the CBS studios.
"I have never stopped believing," he says, "that the spoken word and the imagination of the listener are infinitely stronger and more dramatic than anything television can offer." He is a silvery-haired, distinguished-looking gentleman with a mischievous twinkle in hie eye and an endless capacity for humor. Ruddy-complexioned and vigorous, dressed in a gray pinstripe suit and a crimson tie, he approaches his work with an infectious enthusiasm.
On a typical weekday, Brown arrives at the sound studio at 9 a.m. with a batch of scripts under his arm, which he hands out to a group of actors assembled around a table. Many are stars of the stage or screen -- Tammy Grimes, Julie Harris, Tony Roberts, Fred Gwynn, Bobby Morse, Roberta Maxwell, Joan Hackett. "I get the best actors in the world, right here in New York," he notes with pride. "They work for me in the daytime and on Broadway at night."
As the cast members go through a cold reading. Brown interjects his comments: "Do a little more with that. ... Don't swallow your words there. ... Cross out that line." The actors laugh and joke their way through the session; Brown is the biggest jokester of all. Finally everyone takes a break before doing the actual taping. Brown calls his 91-year-old mother on the telephone and speaks to her in Yiddish for some time. Then he answers a questions about his discoveries in sound effects.
"In the 1930s I was doing Dick Tracy, a very popular show. For sound effects we had several doors. One of them screaked, no matter what we did to it. I like to think that door was talking to us, saying, `Make me a star,'" he says with a smile.
The creaking door later became the signature for Inner Sanctum Mysteries, and is now employed as the introductory note for the Radio Mystery Theater, along with host E.G. Marshall's compelling greeting: "Come in." Himan Brown also created the sound of London's foghorns and Big Ben for Bulldog Drummond, the laugh of the fat Nero Wolfe, and the never-to-be-forgotten train that roared under Park Avenue into Grand Central Station.
When the recording session get underway, Brown observes the performers through the thick glass of the control booth as they stand around a microphone, reading their line with animation. From time to time he stops the action and repeats parts of a scene. "It's all spliced together afterwards," he explains.
In the late 1940s, Brown began to produce television dramas, such as Lights Out and the Chevy Mystery Show. He built a large TV studio on West 26th Street for that purpose, which for many years he has leased to CBS for filming the soap opera The Guiding Light.
For most of his career, Brown has been a resident of the Upper West Side. The father of two, he is married to Shirley Goodman, executive vice president of the Fashion Institute of Technology. He has long been involved in community affairs and charitable organizations, including the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, the National Urban League and the National Conference of Social Work. Brown is constantly in demand as a public speaker, a fund-raiser, and a creator of multimedia presentations.
His plans for 1980 include reviving the Adventure Theater, a children's radio with that he last did in 1977. "The best thing about radio drama," he joyfully concludes, "is that we can take you anywhere, unhampered by sets, production costs, locations, makeup, costumes, or memorizing lines, and make you believe everything we put on the air. ... The screen in your head is much bigger than the biggest giant screen ever made. It gives you an experience no other form of theatre can duplicate. It's the theatre of the mind."
|FERRIS BUTLER||[Back to Top]|
Every Saturday at 11:30 p.m., millions of Americans tune in to what is indisputably the boldest, the most innovative, and frequently the most tasteless comedy show on television -- NBC's Saturday Night Live. But for the 400,000 residents of Manhattan who have cable TV, there is another program -- also aired at 11:30, but on Sunday evening -- that is, in its own way, even more offbeat.
Known as Waste Meat News, the half-hour satiric revue has been a regular feature of Channel D since April, 1976, when a young Westsider named Ferris Butler decided that he had the talent to write, direct, and produce his own comedy series, even without money and film equipment. Time has proven him right: last year, TV World magazine discovered, in a poll of viewers, that Waste Meat News
A tall, willowy, 27-year-old with a quizzical expression permanently fixed on his face, Ferris once worked as a part-time office boy at Channel 7's Eyewitness News, and there he came to the conclusion that "TV news is nothing but throwaway scraps, like sausages or hot dogs. ... Very little protein, like waste meat."
Many of the skits he conceives have the same format as "straight" news items, but have been twisted by his imagination into something outrageous. In place of the standard weather reports, for example, there is Ferris' "Leather Weather Girl," in which a girl is tied to a table, her body representing a map of the world.
The weather reporter, while telling about an impending onslaught of rain and snow, dramatizes his points by pouring a pitcher of water over the girl, smothering her with shaving cream, and finally applying a blow dryer to evaporate the messes while explaining that a warm air front will follow. Other skits include "Swedish Grease," "Music to Eat Rice By," and "The Adversaries," in which two actors wearing grotesque masks debate the question: should monsters be allowed to kill people, or just frighten them?
Ideas for skits, says Ferris, come to him any time of night or day, now that he has "stopped working at any legitimate job. I watch a lot of television. But most of the time, I meander around the streets and just think.
"I remember when I got the idea for the foreign language cursing detector. I was sitting on a bench in the park, smoking grass, when some foreign tourists came and sat down, and started talking about me in German like I was a bum. And I thought, why not have a portable siren that goes off whenever a swear word is spoken in any language?"
He describes himself as "a very unregimented person who can't jive with the mainstream industry." This accounts for much of the spontaneity in Waste Meat News. The performers sometimes don't see the scripts until the taping session. Each segment requires several run-throughs before it is smooth enough to be filmed. Frequently the filming goes on far into the night. Although the show is done with a single camera and half-inch videotape, the final result makes up in charm what it lacks in professional gloss.
"Maybe I'm a little rough in the way I produce it," says Ferris, "but I'm being a pioneer and I'm not worried about perfection as long as the audience has a positive reaction."
His cast is an irregular group of about 15 unpaid actors and actresses, most of them young. Two current stars of Waste Meat News are Pat Profito, a master of comedy who injects an infectious vitality into all of his performances, and Laura Suarez, a Strassberg-trained actress and former Playboy Bunny who frequently portrays the naive sexpot who crops up in many of Ferris' sketches.
Most of the filming is done on the Upper West Side -- usually on the street or in someone's apartment, but also in such diverse places as stores, restaurants, the waterfront, boiler rooms and lobbies. A recent skit was shot at a Westside swimming pool; it features Pat Profito as a swimming instructor who teaches three bikini-clad beauties his "jump-in-and-swim" method, in which he pushes them into the pool and expects them to swim instinctively, or drown.
Ferris, who grew up in Queens and Brooklyn "and departed as soon as was possible," studied filmmaking at New York University under Martin Scorsese and was encouraged to pursue comedy writing. For the past five years he has been married to Beverly Ross, a composer with many hits to her credit including "Lollipop."
It's 10 seconds before midnight on Sunday evening. Time once again for Ferris to bid his viewers goodnight. "And remember: stay alienated, stay wiped out, and stay wasted."
|EASTSIDER SAMMY CAHN||[Back to Top]|
"I've never written a song that didn't almost write itself," says Sammy Cahn, one of the world's most successful lyricists of popular songs. "I'm like the catalyst. It's like I start the boulder down the hill, but after that, there's only one place it can go. I'm always thrilled by the adventure of finding the lyric and leading it to a happy conclusion. If I come to the slightest impasse, I've learned to stop, and look around and see what needs to be done around the house. Then I come back, and it's so easy. You can't go into combat with a lyric."
Over the past four decades, his songs have received four Oscars and more than 30 Oscar nominations. Among his numerous hits, written in collaboration with six different melodists, are "Three Coins in a Fountain," "Love and Marriage," "Call Me Irresponsible" and "Let It Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!" His musicals include Anchors Aweigh and High Button Shoes. As a performer, he has the distinction of making his Broadway debut in 1974 at the age of 60, in a one-man show with backup musicians titled Words and Music, in which he sang his own material and told colorful stories about his life and career. For his performance, Sammy won the Outer Circle Critic's Award for Best New Talent on Broadway, as well as a Theatre World Award. Since then, he has been in great demand all over the country as an entertainer.
Small, wiry and energetic -- he describes himself as "all glasses and mustache" -- he is utterly without pretension, and seems as much at home with strangers on the street as he is with royalty (last year he sang for England's Prince Charles). He manages to embrace both worlds by involving himself in many projects simultaneously.
Born on "the lowest part of the Lower East Side," he now has an apartment in the East 60s with his wife Tita, a fashion designer. He has another residence in Los Angeles, and spends about the same number of days each year in the two homes.
Recently Sammy completed the songs for a new cartoon film of Heidi and a series of songs for Sesame Street. He also works as a consultant for Faberge, and has a large office in the company's East Side headquarters. As president of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Sammy devotes much of his time to publicizing the non-profit organization's museum on the eighth floor of One Times Square. It is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and admission is free. He recently met with the producer of the Broadway musical Annie to discuss writing a new musical. He gives generously to many charitable causes.
But the majority of his time these days goes to writing and performing special lyrics for special occasions -- usually parodies of his own hit songs. Sometimes he does this for profit, and sometimes for love. He was paid handsomely to prepare a birthday celebration for Ray Kroc, the head of Mcdonald's. But a couple of weeks ago, when a man wrote to Sammy telling him how much his songs had meant to him and his wife over the years, and asking him to please write some personalized lyrics for their 18th wedding anniversary, Sammy was "just enough of an idiot to sit down and do it."
He works exclusively at the typewriter. "I have become almost audacious. When I put a piece of paper in the typewriter, I know that the completed song will be on that page. I'm very grateful to the man who invented Correctotype and liquid paper. I start to type as soon as I get up, and I think about songs all day long. When I sleep at night, I sleep with an earplug in my ear, tuned to WCBS or WINS radio. They're both news stations. The radio distracts me: it stops me from thinking about lyrics."
As we are talking, Sammy keeps remembering telephone calls he needs to make, but he keeps them brief and to the point. As soon as he hangs up, our conversation jumps immediately back to the previous subject, as if there had been no interruption. He is extremely quick-minded -- to the extent that his thoughts sometimes race ahead of him, and his sentences lose their structure. In speaking of his son, a very successful jazz guitarist who performs under the name Steve Khan, Sammy comments: "Now, my son -- brace yourself -- my son -- this is one of my great, great achievements -- my fame is coming from a very curious source. People come up to me and say, `You're Steve Kahn's father?'"
Asked about the satisfaction he has gotten from songwriting, Sammy insists that he can't imagine a more rewarding career. "I once told that to a college audience and a boy said, `I'm studying to be a lawyer. What's wrong with that?' I said, `Nothing, but who walks down the street humming a lawsuit?'"
|WESTSIDER HUGH CAREY||[Back to Top]|
It was 5 p.m. on the Friday before Labor Day. Governor Hugh Carey sat alone in his office on West 55th Street, rubbing his forehead wearily with both hands when his assistant press secretary, Judy Deich, ushered me in. The introductions were brief, and the governor spoke very rapidly, keeping is eyes on the table in front of him, where he was scrawling pencil lines in geometric patterns on a piece of blank paper, as if to maintain his concentration.
The Governor had been up for 12 hours, and his voice occasionally faded to a whisper, but he answered all the questions with a flair and displayed a sincere manner throughout. Sitting kitty-corner to me at a conference table, he looked smaller and thinner than his photographs. He also looked like one of the tiredest, most overworked men I had ever met.
"I have been staying on the West Side a lot since last September," he said. "That's when my sons Donald and Michael got an apartment near Central Park. They're kind enough to put me up there. We have the usual tenants' complaints about the leaky ceilings and peeling paint. All in all, it's a good building. I find more and more advantages to living on the West Side. I like it because of the accessibility to work and because I jog in Central Park.
"One of my headaches is Central Park. Some of my colleagues would like to make it a national park. It's the city's biggest showplace. ... I want to get the automobiles out of there more and more. In the morning, I see all the New Jersey cars coming through. That's why I want Westway below 42d Street -- so it will take more pressure off the city. ... I wish everyone would realize that Westway is not a road. It's a recessed highway -- more of a tunnel."
Speaking frankly of the problem of ex-mental patients in parts of the West Side, Carey said that "we have indexed all the SRO's. That was never done before. ... The homeless people who live on the street are not the wards of the state. We can't just go out and pick them up. ... If they need some kind of health care, they should be taken to a shelter and given health care. If they resist, we will have peace officers to take care of them. That's something I'm doing with Mayor Koch."
Ever since he defeated Nelson Rockefeller's appointed successor, Malcolm Wilson, in 1974, Hugh Carey has become well known for both his conservative moral code and his unswerving fiscal restraint. Born on April 11, 1919, to an Irish Catholic family in Brooklyn, Carey grew up with five brothers believing in certain principles that he has never abandoned. These moral principles have become the foundation of his controversial stands on the death penalty and abortion.
"I am against the death penalty," said Carey, "because the government can make a mistake. A sentence of life without parole is better. There are six people now walking around the state who were condemned to death and later proven innocent. One is named Zimmy and he works on the West Side in a garment factory. Somebody should ask him what he thinks about the death penalty. He's alive because somebody confessed.
"I oppose abortion personally. But the Supreme Court upheld that it's the choice of a woman of her own free will, and I support that ruling. In New York, the state pays for it if it's a matter of medical necessity. Otherwise, there might be a mangled body in a back alley. ... I'm also advocating an alternative -- a teenage pregnancy bill, where girls can have a baby without shame and go back to school. It's the most common reason for dropouts among teenagers."
During World War II, Hugh Carey fought in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, and attained the rank of major. After the service, he worked for many years as an executive in his brother Edward's Peerless Oil and Chemical Corporation. Not until 1960, when he was 41 years old, did Carey decide to run for political office. He won his first congressional race and during the 1960s developed a national reputation for his liberal attitude on education, and programs for the elderly and handicapped.
His life has twice been touched by deep personal tragedy in recent years. An automobile accident in 1969 took the lives of his two eldest sons, and cancer claimed his wife Helen in 1974. A man who loves the company of other people, Carey enjoys such simple pleasures as cooking with friends and singing with his children.
Asked about the chief difference between himself and Republican challenger Perry Duryea, the governor replied with obvious glee: "I can't think of anything we have in common. ... I'll knock the Y right out of his name before I'm finished."
Generally known to be at his best in times of crisis, Carey said that whenever the pressures of his office become too great for him to handle alone, he drops into the chapel and asks for help. "It's a matter of privacy to me; I go where I'm not seen," he said. "I need help quite a lot. Also, I believe that New York is a very special place, with a resourcefulness that can't be matched anywhere in the world. When people have come together as New Yorkers, they have done amazing things."
|WESTSIDER CRAIG CLAIBORNE||[Back to Top]|
"To be a good restaurant critic, you shouldn't have a conscience," says Craig Claiborne, food editor of the New York Times. "I used to visit restaurants twice a day, frequently seven days a week, and lie awake brooding about whether my reviews were honest -- whether I was hurting somebody who didn't deserve to be hurt."
Recognized throughout the United States as the father of modern restaurant criticism, Claiborne joined the Times in 1957, and shortly thereafter was given the go-ahead to write reviews based on a four-star system. "The New York Times made the decision. I was the instrument. It was the first newspaper that allowed a restaurant critic to say anything he wanted. It took a lot of guts, when a newspaper depends on advertising."
A 58-year-old bachelor whose soft voice still carries strong traces of his native Mississippi, Claiborne has few of the characteristics generally imagined of a Timesman. He is a true bon vivant, and does not appear to take himself or his work too seriously. He prefers to be called by his first name, is not a particularly fashionable dresser, and spends as little time as possible in Manhattan. In his lighter moods, such as that in which I find him on the day of our interview, he delights in telling jokes that are classics of schoolyard humor. The punch line, more often than not, is drowned by his own uproarious laughter.
Although he has maintained a Westside apartment for the past nine years, Claiborne spends most of his time at his house in East Hampton, Long Island, next door to Pierre Franey, one of the greatest French chefs in America, who, since 1974, has co-authored Claiborne's food articles for the New York Times Sunday magazine. Recently he purchased a larger, more modern house about 15 minutes from Franey, which he plans to occupy shortly. The pair cook together about five times a week. Claiborne calls the house "my Taj Mahal -- my Xanadu."
He explains his jovial mood by saying that the night before, he attended a big dinner party for restaurateur Joe Baum at the Four Seasons. "It was an everybody-bring-something dinner. Jim Beard brought bread. I brought saviche (marinated raw fish), and Gael Greene brought some chocolate dessert. I got roaring drunk."
In spite of his earthiness, Claiborne unquestionably ranks as one of the leading food authorities of his time. His articles, which appear in the Times each Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, cover every subject from the particulars of a dinner for Chinese Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao-ping in Washington (where Claiborne saw a rock group he had never heard of called the Osmonds) to the six most creative ways of preparing scallops. He has written numerous best-selling cookbooks, and he often travels around the world on fact-finding missions.
Claiborne's rise from obscurity to the most prestigious food job in America astonished no one more than himself, since his principal qualifications were a B.A. in journalism and one year's training at a hotel and restaurant school in Switzerland. However, the Times knew exactly what they were looking for when Jane Nickerson retired in 1957, and Claiborne quickly proved to be the man of the hour. He threw himself into his work with boundless energy, writing no less than five columns a week, but his relationship with the newspaper eventually became a love-hate affair. "Things came to the point where I couldn't go to a restaurant at night unless I came home here and had at least four Scotch and sodas and four martinis. And at this point, I took myself off to Africa. I stayed at the Stanley Hotel in Kenya, and I came back and said, `Give me my benefits. I'm quitting this place.' They thought I was kidding."
He wasn't. Claiborne left the paper for almost two years. "Then the Times came to me and said, `Would you come back under any circumstances?' And I must confess that I felt a great emotional relief." He agreed to return if the paper would have someone else do the local restaurant reviews; he also requested that his neighbor and cooking partner Pierre Franey share the Sunday byline. The conditions were immediately met.
Claiborne's Westside apartment is painted green from floor to ceiling -- thus fulfilling an old fantasy of his. He describes the apartment itself as "gently shabby," but says that the building, constructed in 1883, is "the greatest residency in the entire island of Manhattan. You're catty-corner from Carnegie Hall, you're six minutes by foot from Lincoln Center, you can walk to any place on Broadway within seconds, and there are very few restaurants you couldn't get to within five minutes of this place." His favorite restaurant in all of Manhattan is the Shun Lee Palace (155 E. 55th St.), while two other favorites on the West Side are the Russian Tea Room and the Fuji Restaurant (238 W. 56th).
Asked about other interests or hobbies, Claiborne smiles mischievously and replies: "I'm having a $6000 Bolton stereo system put into my new Xanadu. You can clap your hands and change the tapes or records. I love music and sex and food, and outside of that, forget it!"
|WESTSIDER MARC CONNELLY||[Back to Top]|
Eleven years ago, during my senior year in high school, I saw a movie just before Christmas that made a deep impression. It was a film of a stage play called The Green Pastures -- a fascinating look at life in biblical times, performed by an all-black cast.
The memory of that film remained in my consciousness like a religious experience, although I never knew who wrote the play or when it was written. So it was a welcome surprise to learn that this week's interview would be with the play's author, Marc Connelly.
Connelly was born in a small Pennsylvania town in 1890, the son of a pair of travelling actors. He wrote The Green Pastures in 1930; it won that year's Pulitzer Prize for drama. In his 70-year career Connelly has written dozens of plays. One of the most versatile talents in the American theatre, he has excelled as an actor, director, producer, playwriting professor at Yale, and popular lecturer. He has written musicals, stage plays, movie scripts and radio plays.
He was one of the original staff members of the New Yorker magazine, and became part of the famous round table at the Algonquin Hotel. One of his short stories won an O. Henry award. His first novel was published when he was 74 years old. Today, still an active playwright, he lives peacefully at Central Park West, comfortable in his role as an elder statesman of American letters.
I feel a certain freedom about repeating the comments Connelly made during our interview because the first thing he said at the door was "I never read anything about myself. ... It's not modesty; it's more terror -- for fear that some dark secret will emerge."
Yes, he said, he's very busy these days. "I've just completed a comedy which I'm waiting to have done. I'd rather not mention the title before it comes out. It's a comic fantasy."
He recently taped an appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, which will be aired sometime this month. And he's working on a musical version of Farmer Takes A Wife, a Broadway play that he co-authored in 1934. It became a successful film the next year, with Henry Fonda's screen premiere.
"They're always reviving my plays. Last summer they did Merton of the Movies (which he wrote with George F. Kaufman in 1922) in that big theatre complex in Los Angeles. It was quite successful. The boy that plays John-Boy on the Waltons played Merton. It was quite good; I went to see it."
Much as Connelly dislikes certain TV shows, he thinks very highly of TV as a medium: "It's good, it's good. I like three or four shows. Mash is wonderful. I like Maude every now and then. And Carol Burnett. I might like Kojak if it didn't run every five minutes. Three times a night is too much for any TV show."
Any anecdotes about the "Vicious Circle" of the Algonquin Hotel -- whose members included Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Alexander Woollcott and George Kaufman? "Oh, I don't want to talk about the round table," he said. "Every time you turn around there's a new book about the round table. ... I've written about George Kaufman and so have a hundred other people. It might be that he might get out of his grave and club us all for writing about him."
Although The Green Pastures is considered an American classic, it is now performed only by school and amateur companies. Its depiction of plantation life has become offensive to socially conscious blacks. "There are Negro snobs," explained Connelly, "just like there are Irish snobs and Jewish snobs. As soon as people get in a position of economic power, they become sensitive about the way they are shown on the stage. It's a very human, inevitable reaction."
However, he thinks that his masterwork is as valid today as ever. "It's a statement about the fact that man has been hunting the divine in himself ever since he became a conscious animal. And this is the story of one aspect of his search for the divine in himself."
Connelly attends Broadway "when there's something I feel I want to see. I walk out on quite a few. Theatre is just as strong today. A seasonal crop may be poor, but theatre itself is healthy. It's probably the greatest social instrument man ever invented. All religions have sprung from the theatre."
A Westsider since about 1920, Marc Connelly named Schwartz's Candy Store on West 72nd as one of his favorite neighborhood businesses. "It's one of the finest candy shops in New York," he said. "You can see my portrait there. And the A&P at 68th and Broadway. There's a checkout girl there named Noreen who's one of the best checkout girls in America."
The interview came to an end when I again asked Connelly about television. Does he approve of it? "Of course," he said. "Any new public addition is going to be condemned. They used to say, `Don't go to the movies. ... You'll go blind.' We're not blind and we still watch them."
|EASTSIDER TONY CRAIG||[Back to Top]|
Although Los Angeles has long since taken over prime-time TV programming, New York is still the headquarters for daytime drama -- also known as soap opera. Of the 13 "soaps," 10 are filmed in New York, and of these 10, five have been on the small screen since the 1950s, including The Edge of Night, which debuted in 1956.
The show's crime/mystery format has not changed much over the years, but one thing that has changed, of course, is the cast of characters. Tony Craig, who plays attorney Draper Scott, joined the show in November, 1975, and since then he has become one of the most popular male stars in daytime television.
Tony owes his success not only to his good looks and his acting ability, but also to his likable off-camera personality. Upon meeting Tony on the set of The Edge of Night during a busy shooting session, I cannot help noticing the affection that the other cast members display toward him. His ability to get along with everyone involved with the show -- especially producer Nick Nicholson, and headwriter Henry Slesar -- has enabled Tony to develop the role of Draper Scott into one of the four leading characters.
"I was given a piece of advice when I started," says Tony. "One: keep to your business and do what you're told, and two, answer your fan mail. I answer all my fan mail with a very personal response. ... In the National Star, I once said I was looking for Miss Right, and I got inundated with letters. Some people sent plane ticket, asking me to come and see them."
As we sit down to talk in one of the dressing rooms, Tony puts on a tie and jacket for an upcoming bar scene, but because only his top half will be shown on camera, he does not bother to change out of his blue jeans and running shoes. Tall, athletically built and boyish in appearance, he discusses his work with an infectious enthusiasm.
"The closer I get to the character, the more I see that he and I are very much alike," says Tony in his rapid speech. "It's funny, the way I've assimilated him and he's assimilated me. It's like the dummy in Magic. The character has gone from a very impetuous, aggressive, almost nasty young man to a very quiet, strong, very reserved lawyer. It's changed to the point where I'm a pillar of the community. Whenever there's a problem, call Draper.
"I think I allow Tony a little more anger, a little more frustration, than Draper allows himself. ... I'm very normal, I'm very average, I'm very aggressive. Some people would say pushy. But I do what I have to."
Approximately 260 half-hour shows are filmed each year for The Edge of Night, and Tony appears in most of them. He starts his day by studying lines -- "we have about a week ahead to go over the script" -- and then goes to the studio on East 44th Street, where each scene gets just one run-through before the final taping. A quick learner, Tony finds that "I have plenty of time to do what I want." Last year he launched a successful musical nightclub act and performed in two stage plays by Neil Simon -- Barefoot in the Park with Maureen O'Sullivan and The Star-Spangled Girl.
Another important aspect of Tony's life is sports. When growing up in Pittsburgh, he says, "all I ever wanted was to be an athlete. My whole life was baseball. But I just wasn't good enough." Now he works out three times a week at the 21st Century Health Club on East 57th Street, jogs, plays tennis and racquetball, and is on the softball and basketball teams of both The Edge of Night and the ABC Eyewitness News. Says Tony: "The Eyewitness News team plays all over the tri-state area and gives the proceeds to charity."
Unlike his TV character, who recently brought up the ratings by marrying the beautiful April Cavanaugh (played by Terry Davis), Tony lives alone in an Upper East Side apartment. "How can I put this without sounding full of beans and self-pity?" He remarks. "I find that life is a lot more exciting when you share it with somebody. ... The girl I'm dating now is a news reporter in Baltimore, Jeanne Downey. Long distance isn't the next best thing to being there, believe me."
When Tony won the part of Draper Scott over 200 other actors, he was working part-time as a bartender at Joe Allen's in the theatre district. "I was doing commercials and a lot of modeling -- nothing significant. Before this show, I'd never made more than $1,200 a year from acting. I didn't expect to get the part, because they wanted someone in his mid-40s. They rewrote the script for a younger attorney. My agent signed me up on a lark. That just goes to show: when it happens, it happens."
Tony hates to cook -- which is fine with the restaurateurs in his area. His favorite dining spot is La Bonne Soupe (3rd Ave., 57th-58th St.): they have the prettiest waitresses and most pleasant food."
Asked about the lasting value of soap opera, he quickly replies: "I believe television has an obligation to do nothing but entertain. Everything on television, even news, is show business. If it weren't, they wouldn't have ratings and handsome newsmen."
Anyone wishing to hear from Tony should write to him at ABC, 1330 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
|EASTSIDER RODNEY DANGERFIELD||[Back to Top]|
He was 43 years old when the big break came. Jack Roy, a paint salesman from Queens who did comedy in his spare time, stood before the cameras of the Ed Sullivan Show and delivered a routine that soon had the audience helpless with laughter. Whether they realized they were witnessing the birth of one of comedy's brightest stars is uncertain. But for Jack Roy -- better known as Rodney Dangerfield -- the long wait was over.
His unique brand of humor caught on immediately. Within a year he was able to quit the paint business -- "it was a colorless job" -- and give his full time to comedy. After 10 appearances with Sullivan he went on The Tonight Show, and established such a smooth rapport with Johnny Carson that he has so far been invited back about 60 times. With Carson acting as "straight man," Dangerfield tosses off a string of outrageous anecdotes that are in keeping with his image as a man who seems to have the whole world against him.
The afternoon I meet Rodney Dangerfield at his spacious modern East Side apartment is like a day straight out of his monologue. Coming to the door dressed in a polka dot robe and looking quite exhausted, he apologizes by saying that he has been up since 8 in the morning -- early for someone who is accustomed to working past 4 a.m. As we sit down to talk, he answers most of my questions with an unexpected seriousness. Still, the humor creeps in around the edges.
"I have an image to feed. Most comedians don't," he says with a yawn, sprawled out on the sofa like a bear prematurely woken from hibernation. "If I see something or read something that starts me thinking, I try to turn it around, and ask myself: How can it go wrong for me now? What can happen here? For example, you're watching something on television. You see Lindbergh on the screen. Your mind is on that TV. ... You get no respect at all. You see the paper flying all over the place. You say, I get no respect at all. I got arrested for littering at a ticker tape parade.
"Rickles has an image. Steve Martin has an image. But most don't. A lot of comedians buy their material. Others take someone else's material and steal it. We don't go into that, though."
Being a professional funny man, says Rodney, "is a completely total sacrifice. It's like dope: you have to do it. ... The curse is to be a perfectionist."
He writes at least 90 percent of his act. Whenever an original joke flashes into his mind, he drops whatever he's doing and jots it down. ("I get no respect. On my wedding night I got arrested for having a girl in my room.") Before a new gag can be thought worthy of The Tonight Show, it must be tested and retested before a live audience. This is no problem, for Rodney is constantly in demand all over the North American continent, not only as a nightclub performer but also as a lecturer at colleges. Last June he was invited to give the commencement address at Harvard. "It's a strange thing," he remarks. "Kids are into me."
One probable reason for his appeal with the young is that Rodney has two children of his own, an 18-year-old son in college and a 14-year-old daughter who lives at home. It was mainly to lighten his travel schedule and enable him to spend more time with his children that Rodney opened his own nightclub nine years ago. Known simply as Dangerfield's, it is located on First Avenue between 61st and 62nd Streets. Dangerfield's is especially popular with out-of-town visitors. Among the celebrities who have been spotted there: Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Joe Namath, Telly Savalas and Led Zeppelin. The entertainment usually consists of both music and comedy -- Jackie Mason, singers Gene Barry and Carmen MacRae, and America's foremost political impressionist, David Frye.
But the biggest attraction, of course, is Rodney himself. He will be playing the club from January 5 until February 4, seven nights a week. There is an $8 cover charge and a $7 minimum on food and/or drink.
Rodney has lived on the East Side since 1969. Born as Jacob Cohen 57 years ago in Babylon, Long Island, he spent most of his boyhood and his early career in Queens. After graduating from Richmond Hill High School, he changed his legal name to Jack Roy "because my father used `Roy' in vaudeville." For years he worked small nightclubs for little or no pay. Then at 28 he married. "My wife was a singer. So we decided to both quit show business and lead a normal life. That doesn't always work out."
The first "no respect" joke he ever wrote, says Rodney, was: "I played hide and seek. They wouldn't even look for me." The same basic gag has since reappeared in a thousand variations. ("My twin brother forgot my birthday.")
Rodney now earns a substantial part of his income by making commercials, the best known of which are for Mobil and Miller Lite beer. He has cut two comedy albums and written a pair of books, I Don't Get No Respect and I Couldn't Stand My Wife's Cooking So I Opened a Restaurant.
For the moment, Rodney has no plans for other books or albums. "Perhaps I'm not ambitious enough to pursue different things the way I should," he confesses."I'd rather spend my free time at the health club. The idea in life is not to see how much money you can die with."
|WESTSIDER JAN DE RUTH||[Back to Top]|
In 1955, when Jan De Ruth's painting reached the point where he could support himself entirely by his brush and palette, he used to take singing lessons at 8 o'clock in the morning to make himself get up early. Today he gets up strictly to paint, and does so with such skill and efficiency that he maintains a reputation as one of America's foremost painters of nudes, while still managing to turn out five or six commissioned portraits a month.
At 55 and in the zenith of his career, De Ruth is a mellow, dignified Westsider whose lively eyes reflect the deep intellect within. His achievements in the past two decades are enormous. His works have graced nearly 70 one-man shows. His portraits of former First Lady Pat Nixon and other celebrity wives have appeared on the cover of Time magazine. He has written two widely popular books -- Portrait Painting and Painting the Nude. As we relax in the workroom of his West 67th Street apartment, I begin by asking how he came to specialize in nudes.
"I always knew I would paint women," he says in a soft voice shaded with tones of his native Czechoslovakia. "In 1948, when I came to the United States, I started to paint nudes."
Is his choice of subject matter motivated by something other than art's sake?" "The only person I think who may have these thoughts in mind is myself," he answers, smiling frankly, "because I always ask myself whether these reasons are purely artistic or do they come from the gut? I don't think there can be art unless it comes from the gut."
De Ruth's painting used to occupy him eight to 15 hours a day. Now he is down to about seven hours. He works very rapidly, with intense concentration. "I don't paint after the afternoon," he explains, "except sometimes sketching at night. You exhaust your juices by the time evening comes along."
One person he used to sketch after hours was actress Karen Black, who lived in West 68th Street just across from his apartment. Says De Ruth: "she would sit in the in the windowsill in her bra and slip. Then one day I called over to her, `Would you like to get paid for this?' She rushed inside to get her glasses, and looked over at me, very surprised. She became my model for some time."
For a woman to be an ideal nude model, said De Ruth, "she should be gentle, as intelligent as possible, considerate, and somebody in the arts, or with the sensitivity of an artist. And she must be physically attractive."
How do the women who pose fully dressed for commissioned portraits compare to the professional nude models? "They work better than my models usually," says the artist, who has painted Ethel Kennedy, Eleanor McGovern, and the late Martha Mitchell for Time. "They're much more concerned to participate. I don't think it's necessarily something to do with vanity. It's much more curiosity. Because we never really know until the day we die what we look like. Because we vary so much from one time to another."
Ironically, Martha Mitchell -- wife of President Nixon's infamous attorney general, John Mitchell -- posed for De Ruth inside the Watergate Building during the height of her fame. "She had a certain peasant charm -- a charm of her own," he recalls.
A man who craves variety, De Ruth has for many years spent his summers at a studio in Massachusetts. This past summer he began to teach painting in New Mexico -- something he has wanted to try for a long time. A passionate skier, he travels to Austria each winter to pursue the sport that he learned as a child, then gave up until his mid-40s.
His other after-work activities? "I love to be in the company of women," says the artist with a radiant smile, adding that he prefers their company when he's not painting them.
The East Side, according to the artist, is "a city in itself. There's a sterility over there, at least for me. I just can't see myself without this mixture that the West Side is." De Ruth has been going to the same Chinese laundry for 28 years -- Jack's on Columbus Avenue. Another business he has patronized all that time is Schneider's Art Supplies at 75th Street and Columbus.
As the interview comes to a close, I ask De Ruth what advice he would give to an aspiring young artist. "Never be discouraged by anyone or anything," he says. Then, to balance his remarks, he relates an anecdote about an art student who asked Degas what he could do to help the world of art. Replied Degas: "Stop painting."
|WESTSIDER MIGNON DUNN||[Back to Top]|
Don't look for opera posters, photographs or reviews on the walls of Mignon Dunn's Westside apartment. The Tennessee-born Metropolitan Opera star, one of the world's most sought-after mezzo-sopranos since the early 1970s, prefers to keep her two lives separate. She has no scrapbooks and saves no clippings. "I look forward to what I'm doing tomorrow," she explains.
"I don't like those stand-up-and-sing roles. I loves to play wicked women. But you have to make them just as human as possible," she continues, her gold jewelry jingling as she settles onto the sofa. Tall and attractive, with large, expressive features, Miss Dunn is hospitality personified as she talks about her life and career over a glass of wine.
This season at the Met she starred in both Lohengrin and Elektra. In the spring she will appear in Aida on the Met tour, and perform the role of Kundry in Parsifal with Germany's Hamburg Opera. After that she plans some orchestral and opera concerts across the country. Long praised for her dramatic talents as well as her vocal skills, Miss Dunn has already signed contracts for performances into 1984.
Although a few noted operas, such as Carmen, Samson et Dalila, and Joan of Arc, have a mezzo in the title role, most operas feature the higher-voiced soprano in the lead and a mezzo in a character role. "We may not have the main roles, but we have some of the best parts in opera," she says in her rich Southern accent, shouting the last word as if from an overflow of energy. "Not many of the roles I get today are angelic. It's often the `other woman,' or the woman who causes the trouble."
Married since 1972 to Kurt Klippstatter, a conductor and music director from Austria, Miss Dunn has never had any children of her own, somewhat to her regret. But she and her husband frequently have their nephews and nieces staying for extended periods. "Our niece Evi, from Austria, is living with us now. She's like a little daughter, and I adore her. She's 18, and she's going to go to nursing school." Mignon and Kurt are a very gregarious couple who enjoy throwing huge dinner parties. Mignon's cooking, like her singing, is international.
"I cook Austrian. I cook New Orleans. I cook some nice Italian and French things. I'm going to be in Paris later this year for six weeks, and I really seriously want to go to the Cordon Bleu Cooking School, and take at least a three-week course."
Around the late 1960s she was based in Germany for several years. There, says Dunn, many new operas are premiered each year, while in the U.S. they are a rarity. "It all comes back to the fact that we don't have government subsidy. We have to worry about selling tickets. Opera is an expensive thing, and until we get this government support -- which people for some reason are afraid of -- we cannot be as experimental as we would like to be."
Brought up on a cotton plantation in Memphis, she entered her first singing contest at the age of 9 and spent most Saturday afternoons in her girlhood listening with rapt attention to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast on the radio. Immediately following her high school graduation, she was auditioned by Met scouts and encouraged to go to New York. There, after several years of study, she won a national competition that launched her career.
Dunn spent part of three seasons with the New York City Opera before joining the Met. It was many years, however, before her talents were fully appreciated there. "It only took me 11 auditions to get into the New York City Opera, and at least that many at the Met. So take heart, everybody," she says, laughing merrily.
She has made numerous opera recordings, including the role of Susan B. Anthony in Virgil Thompson's The Mother of Us All and Maddalena in Rigoletto. "I don't ever listen to my recordings," she says when asked to name her favorite. "I listen to the playbacks, when I can do something about it. But I don't listen to recordings afterwards because there's nothing that I can do about it, and I know I'm going to find a million things that I don't like."
Mignon and her husband recently bought a house in Connecticut, but they will keep their Westside apartment. "We have three acres," she says proudly. "I hope we'll get a couple of horses and I would love a goat. I love goats. They're so cute. I love animals -- we have a Great Dane and a Labrador -- and I'm very much into the business with the Animal Protection Institute. Most of the experiments that are done with animals today: there's just no reason for it. ... I mean, I don't think we need another shampoo on the market, really."
Her voice rises with feeling as she pursues the subject. "It is really the slavery of today. People don't have any feelings for animals, and I'm just rabid. I really am. It is so disgraceful. Anytime anybody wants me to do a benefit for animals, just call me and I'll do it any day I've got free. I would like to do more benefits. Actually, I'm hardly ever asked to, but if I were asked, I would do it."
|EASTSIDER DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS JR.||[Back to Top]|
Six times he has received an advance to write his autobiography, and six times he has returned the money because of the enormity of the task. The life of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is too rich and varied to be condensed into a one-volume narrative.
The only child of Douglas Fairbanks Sr., America's first great matinee idol, he has acted in more than 75 feature films, produced 160 television plays and a dozen movies, performed in countless stage plays and musicals, made numerous recordings, written screenplays, published his articles and drawings in many of the nation's leading magazines, and given his time freely to at least 50 public service organizations. Ten countries on four continents have presented him with major awards for his diplomatic and philanthropic activities.
"One morning I woke up and said, `I suppose I must have retired,'" notes the tanned, vigorous 69-year-old at his Madison Avenue office, from behind his huge antique desk with brass lions' heads for drawer pulls. But in our long discussion, it becomes obvious that he has never actually retired, either as an entertainer or as a force in public affairs. His office is fairly cluttered with mementoes of his world travels -- swords, statuettes, novelty lamps, old photographs, oversized travel books. The white-haired, melodious-voiced actor sits looking very comfortable as he tells about his ongoing stage career.
"My favorite type of work right now is doing plays for limited periods. In 1940 I gave up stage acting, but in 1968 I did the first big revival of My Fair Lady, and since then I have been in several other plays. This summer I'm doing My Fair Lady again in Reno for eight to 10 weeks. ... I didn't want to copy Rex Harrison, but I was prevailed upon by Lerner and Loewe to do this. I've known them since before they knew each other. They're going to make a number of adjustments for me. My other project, which is still in the planning stages, is a new Broadway show. But it's really too soon to talk about it."
On August 13, the classic 1939 film Gunga Din, in which Fairbanks co-stars with Cary Grant, will be shown at 9 p.m. on Channel 9 with a single commercial-interruption. His other hit films include Sinbad the Sailor and The Prisoner of Zenda. He acted in his first movie in 1923 while barely in his teens, and in 1932 he was designated a star. He continued to make films until 1941, when he joined the U.S. armed forces and served for more than five years. Then he resumed his film career with much success before turning his hand to producing in 1952.
"Everybody misuses the word `star' today," he explains. "Legally, it only means having your name above the title. There's no such thing as a superstar. That's a term we have let creep into the language. Actually Charlie Chaplin may have been a superstar, but he's one of the very few." He laughs and tells about another aspect of modern-day moviemaking that amuses him. "Very few of the great producers in the past paid any attention to credits at all. Now, they all like to get their names in the billing and in the ads, as big as the stars' names -- as if anybody cares who made the film!"
Asked whether his career was helped by having a famous father in the movie business, he replies that "the advantages were ephemeral. They were limited to people being polite and nice, but that wouldn't necessarily lead to any jobs. It usually meant that I would be underpaid rather than overpaid, and they would expect more of me. By the time I became a star, my father had already retired."
His stepmother Mary Pickford, "America's sweetheart," who died in May at the age of 86, joined with Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith in 1919 to found United Artists. The following year she married Fairbanks, and together they virtually ruled Hollywood. Douglas Junior, who became close to his father only in his late teens, grew up in New York, Hollywood, London and Paris -- which helps to explain his love for travel and his endless quest for variety.
As the creative force behind the acclaimed TV series Douglas Fairbanks Presents, he produced an average of 32 one-hour films a year from 1952 and 1957. "My studio manager had a heart attack and my story editor had a nervous breakdown, just from the pressure of getting out these films. I thought I would be next, so I decided to quit," he says. "They were very elaborate productions. We used to have the scripts six months in advance. Now, if you start shooting on Tuesday, you'll get the script on Monday."
Today, with his multiple business interests and philanthropic pursuits, he maintains a house in Florida, an office in London, and, since 1956, an apartment on the Upper East Side. He and his wife Mary have been married for 40 years and have three daughters, two of whom live in England.
His overall career, concludes Fairbanks, "does not have a single theme, because it's been so diversified. It's been a series of themes. Maybe it's cacophonous. The things I find most interesting don't pay a penny. But possibly all my activities blended together have something to do with a person who's got a lot of curiosity and energy and capacity to enjoy and appreciate life."
|WESTSIDER LEE FALK||[Back to Top]|
Who is the most widely read author in the world today?
Not counting Chairman Mao, whose quotations are required reading for one-fourth of the earth's population, the honor probably belongs to a dapper, soft-spoken man in his early 60s who could walk from his Westside apartment all the way to Times Square without being recognized. He is not a familiar figure on book jackets or talk shows because Lee Falk happens to be a comic strip writer. His two creations, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, are published in more than 500 newspapers in 40 countries. His daily readership: close to 100 million.
"One of the few places in the world where my strips don't run is in New York City," says Falk, leaning gently forward in his chair. "They ran in the New York Journal American for 25 years. That was the biggest afternoon paper in America until the newspaper strike, about 10 years ago. Then it folded, as did most of New York's papers; we were left with the Times, the Post, and the Daily News. But my strips do run in El Diario, the Spanish-language newspaper, and in the New York News World."
He arrived in New York from Missouri during the Great Depression, while still in his teens, carrying a sample strip he had written and drawn. King Features bought Mandrake the Magician and two years later added The Phantom to their syndicate.
In the beginning, Falk did both the drawing and the writing himself. "Then for a long time I used to make rough sketches and give them to my artists," he recalls. "Now I just give a description of each panel. I might say `close-up' or `long shot' like you do in a film. Then I put in the dialogue. ... Some of my early artists are dead. They've gone on to their reward -- to that big bar up in the sky, where all artists go. ... Now there's one group drawing my strips on Long Island, and another one on Cape Cod. Very often I don't see them from one year to the next. Collaboration works best that way."
Since giving up his drawing pad, Falk has increased his literary output many times over. Besides doing all the writing for his strips for the past 40-odd years -- which now takes up but a small part of his time -- he has written five novels and a dozen plays. He owns five theatres; he has directed about 100 plays and produced 300. None of his own dramatic works has been a big commercial success, although one is currently doing well in Paris. Then there was the comedy that he co-authored with a young American he met in Rome just before World War II. "It almost made it to Broadway," says Falk. "It was redone about two years ago on the West Coast. My collaborator was there to see it too; we've remained friends to this day. You may have heard of the man. He's a senator from California, the senate majority whip. His name is Alan Cranston. ... You see, it's best to save the punch line for the end."
Another of Falk's main pastimes is travel. He has visited enough islands, jungles, and out-of-the-way places to keep the story ideas flowing for years to come, but his appetite is still unwhetted. Early this year he toured Scandinavia, when "they were making a big fuss about the Phantom's marriage. There were so many press conferences to attend. One guy made me wear a mask, and the next day as I got on the plane, there was my picture on the front page. I said, `But your paper doesn't even run The Phantom.' He said, `The Phantom belongs to all of Norway.'"
In April of this year, Lee and his wife Elizabeth, a cosmetics executive turned mystery writer, spent three weeks in the People's Republic of China. Ironically, although that is one of the few places in the world where Falk's name is completely unknown, neither he nor anyone else in his touring group could escape the public eye. "They were fascinated by seeing us, because for a whole generation the Chinese have been shut off from foreign visitors. They crowded around us 10 deep, and held up their babies."
An action-oriented man who loves to play tennis, ride his bicycle, and go swimming, Falk has lived on the West Side for over 20 years because "I find the East Side a little too chichi for my tastes." Another Westside characteristic he likes is the abundance of Puerto Rican residents: "They're very sweet, gentle people. ... [Deputy Mayor] Herman Badillo is an old friend of mine. He knew my comic strips from Puerto Rico."
Lee Falk estimates that "over a period of 40 years I must have written about 800 to 1,000 stories. They would fill this whole room." Where does he get his inspiration? "A lot of it comes from my travels. It's all grist for the mill. Now and then I see something in the news and adapt it to my features. For example, once I saw a story in Life magazine about a Swiss scientist who was experimenting with back-breeding. He managed to breed some European cattle back to the original aurochs, which has been extinct for several hundred years. ... I put his idea into Mandrake. A scientist started with a lizard and ended up with a dinosaur."
The veteran storyteller never gets tired of spinning his yarns. "I enjoy it. It's something I can do. ... Both The Phantom and Mandrake are translated into about 20 languages. After all these years, they're bigger than ever -- except in this country, because we've lost so many papers."
|WESTSIDER BARRY FARBER||[Back to Top]|
"Dull" is a word that could never be used to describe Barry Farber. He is a totally unique individual with so many far-reaching ideas that his conservative label seems to fit him poorly, even though it was as a conservative that he ran for mayor of New York last year and garnered almost as many votes as his Republican opponent Roy Goodman.
During that campaign, Barry quit the syndicated talk show on WOR Radio that he had hosted for 16 years. In March of this year his mesmerizing Southern drawl took over the 4 to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday time slot on WMCA (570 AM). The ratings have gone up at least 50% since he joined the station.
I meet Barry for an interview one August afternoon at a Chinese restaurant near the studio. To my amazement he orders the meal entirely in Cantonese. Then he withdraws a stack of index cards from his pocket on which are printed vocabulary words in Finnish, Italian, and Mandarin chinese -- a few of the 14 languages that he studies during spare moments in his hectic work week.
The lank 48-year-old, neatly garbed in a pin-stripe suit, is surprisingly low-keyed in our hour-long conversation. Yet the verbal gems still trip as neatly off his tongue as they do when he's putting an irate telephone caller in his place, to the delight of radio listeners. Never hesitant to voice his opinion on any topic, Barry pounces on my questions with an eagerness that belies his calm exterior.
New York's reputation outside the city limits, says the widely travelled Farber, has gone way downhill in recent decades. "It used to be, where I grew up, that people would brag about coming to New York four times a year. Today they brag about never coming here. The large companies send their salesmen to Manhattan for a 45-minute conference like an Entebbe raid. ... New York needs not a slow, gradual, ho-hum comeback. It needs a dramatic voice who is going to say that the city's priorities for the last 40 years have been wrong. New York is a sexy woman who's been running around in the mud. Turn the hose on her and she's going to regain her allure."
The tax revolt, he believes, "should definitely come to New York. You cannot expect to live as sinfully economically as we've lived, and avoid a rampage. The politicians have brought this upon themselves. And don't let them get away with telling us that they have to cut police, firemen, and sanitation before they cut themselves, because they don't.
"When John Lindsay was mayor, he flung back his head and inhaled the vapors of the 1960s. And it was left, baby, left. He bet his presidential hopes on that. But in the last mayoral election, it was the conservatives who did the best. Koch was the most conservative Democrat running."
His anticommunist sentiments come to the surface when the subject turns to the 1980 Olympics. "I think we should have never allowed it in Moscow on the grounds that we have never had the Olympics in a dictatorship in the modern era. I'd like to see the athletes of the world say, `We're not going to Moscow to play sportive games by rules when the Russians live in violation of the rules of civilization itself.' Russia is guilty of the world's worst cast of unsportsmanlike conduct. ... Yes, we should pull out. But the Olympics is small potatoes. I say, start a new United Nations for the free countries of the world -- a UFN, a United Free Nations, which shall be an association of all nations governed by law, of all free democracies that want to remain free. In 1945, we did not seek to build a fraternity of dictatorships where tinhorn tyrants would outvote democracies 10 to one."
Barry has lived on the West Side ever since he came to the city from Greensboro, North Carolina 21 years ago, and now occupies a 17-room penthouse overlooking the Hudson River. "The West Side and the East Side are like East Berlin and West Berlin in terms of the rigidity of lifestyle," he says. "There's a feeling on the West Side that we don't have to impress each other. We know where it's at."
Recently divorced from his Swedish wife, Barry makes frequent overnight trips to Sweden to see his children. He has to be back at the WMCA studio on Sunday at 11 a.m. for his four-hour live show with guests. Two weeks ago, he asked Robert Violante, who was shot and partially blinded by Son of Sam, what it felt like to be shot in the head. Questions like this tend to provoke as many listeners as they fascinate, and that is why Barry prefers not to be too specific about his address.
"I don't do a Merry Mailman kind of show," he says with a half-smile. "One of my fantasies is to have a hit man from the Communist Party, the Nazi Party, the PLO, and the Black Panthers approach me from four different directions and fire all at once -- and I duck."
|WESTSIDER SUZANNE FARRELL||[Back to Top]|
She arrived in New York like a fairy princess -- a wondrous creation whose beauty and talent left audiences gaping in astonishment. At 16, she became the youngest person ever to join George Balanchine's New York City Ballet, and at 19, she was promoted to the rank of principal dancer. Since that time, 14 seasons have come and gone, but Suzanne Farrell, the girl from Cincinnati, is still the darling of America's foremost ballet company.
In a dressing room interview last week at the New York State Theatre, the slender, angelic-looking Miss Farrell spoke at length about her public and private life, quickly revealing the two qualities that have enabled her to remain one of the world's top ballerinas for so long. First is her boundless energy; second is her genuine love for people and the world of ballet. Warm, funny, and articulate about her art, she discussed with enthusiasm the upcoming television special, Choreography by Balanchine, Part One, which will be aired May 23 on Channel 13.
"This is one of four programs we taped in Nashville," she said, in a voice as clear and melodic as an actress's. "The name of the ballet I'm in is Tzigane; the music is by Ravel. We did the finale before the beginning because they wanted to let go the four extra couples that were needed for that part. It was very strange -- like having dessert before the meal." She laughed lightly, tossing back her long, silky brown hair. "The TV studio is very small, and the camera sees things differently than the audience sees when you're on stage. Things that are done in a circle look like an oval. And diagonal movement has to be done in a straight line."
Suzanne's brightest moment in the program is a solo at the beginning, which she performs to the music of a solo violin. "One of the things I like about doing ballet on television is that you can reach many people who have never seen live dance before. About two years ago I got a beautiful letter from an older man in Oklahoma who was certainly not in the habit of writing fan letters. Now, every time I tape a new program, I think of that man.
"Tzigane is one of my favorite ballets, because it was the first one that Balanchine choreographed for me after I returned to the company in 1974."
In 1969, Suzanne left the New York City Ballet and spent the next four seasons with Maurice Bejart's Ballet of the 20th Century in Brussels, Belgium. When she finally wrote to Balanchine to find out the chances of dancing with him again, he simply asked when she could start.
"In Brussels, the type of ballet they're used to is different, so they react differently. If you were to give them a beautiful, wonderfully stark ballet, with little costume and scenery, they might not take to it as much. ... But it was a good thing to have in my career. I demand that I get something constructive out of any situation. Because life is so short that you can't afford to not give everything, every time you go out there."
For the past 10 years she has been married to Paul Mejia, a former dancer who is today the artistic director and choreographer for the Ballet de Guatemala, one of Latin America's major companies. Although the couple must undergo some long separations, their marriage is a happy one. Spending time alone at her Lincoln Center area apartment does not bother Suzanne. With a steady diet of exercise classes, rehearsals and performances, and her nine pets (eight cats and a dog), Suzanne has little time to be lonely.
"When I have a free night, it's terrible," she lamented, "because every time the phone rings, I think, `Oh no, they want me for a performance.' I dance just about every night. By the time I go to bed, it's about 2 o'clock. I happen to get up about 6. ... On Monday, my free day, I teach at the American School of Ballet. It's such a shock to do two performances on Saturday and Sunday, and none on Monday. It's hardly worth it, because the body can't adjust. ... I have always thought that actors have it easier than dancers, because it doesn't matter so much how tired your body is: all you need is your mouth."
A Westsider for most of her career, Suzanne lists reading and cooking as her preferred pastimes: "I'm a great short-order cook. I think if I weren't a dancer, I'd be a waitress." Two local restaurants she likes to frequent are Rikyu (210 Columbus Ave.) and Victor's Cafe (240 Columbus).
Asked about her salary, Suzanne admitted that "you'll never make a lot of money in ballet. It's something we do because we love it, and we have to do it to be happy. ... The sole attraction is working for Balanchine and the New York City Ballet: that's something you can't put down in dollars and cents. I just assume that the company is paying us as much as they can." She smiled radiantly and added: "Most dancers wouldn't know what to do with a lot of money anyway, because they wouldn't have time to spend it."
|WESTSIDER JULES FEIFFE||[Back to Top]|
Imagine a movie starring Dustin Hoffman as Popeye the Sailor and Lily Tomlin as his girlfriend Olive Oyl.
Anyone who has seen the old Popeye cartoons, or the new computer-animated ones, might think that the fighting mariner does not have the dramatic qualities needed for a full-length film. But according to Westsider Jules Feiffer, who is now writing the script for Popeye the Sailor, the original comic strip in the daily newspapers was the work of "an unrecognized genius." E.C. Segar created Popeye and drew him from 1924 to 1938. After that the character changed. Feiffer finds the original strip to be his biggest source of inspiration.
"The cartoons," says Feiffer, sitting on one arm of a chair in his Riverside Drive apartment, "exploit the violence between Popeye and Bluto. That was never part of the strip. It's more along the lines of the traditional cartoon of the 1940s, which could find nothing more interesting than one character dismembering another. I didn't find that funny when I was a kid and I don't now."
Feiffer developed his unique style of humor long before he sold his first cartoon. Today, though still perhaps best known as a cartoonist, he has gained a reputation as a playwright for both the stage (Knock, Knock and Little Murders) and the screen (Carnal Knowledge). He is also a respected prose writer, having recently published his second novel, Ackroyd.
A product of the Bronx, Feiffer recalls that after graduating from high school he went through "a series of schlock jobs to buy food and drawing materials. And long periods of unemployment." He planned all along to become a cartoonist. "I was prepared," he says, "for the eventual success which I was certain was going to happen if my work remained true to myself."
Feiffer spent several years as an assistant to other cartoonists and attended two art schools. Still, no one would publish his work until a day in 1956 when Feiffer, age 27, took a batch of his best 'toons to the office of a new, relatively unknown weekly called The Village Voice. They loved his work, and he became a regular contributor.
"All other publications at that time had their own idea of their readership. And editors insisted on tailoring stories to their own taste. The Voice," says Feiffer, "existed for the artist's taste and the writer's taste. It was a time when McCarthyism and the blacklist were rampant through every strata of society."
The Voice was then the only publication of its kind. It wrote about dissent; it was considered revolutionary, and Feiffer's weekly cartoons helped it to maintain that image.
Success came quickly to Feiffer after he joined the Village Voice: "It happened faster than I thought. It was only about three months or so before my work came to be talked about, and publishers began to offer book contracts." Syndication took place a few years later. Now the cartoon is carried by somewhat over 100 publications in every country of the western world and several in the Far East.
Feiffer's cartoon takes him one day a week to conceive and draw. During the other six days he works on his latest writing project. For three years -- until it was published this past summer -- that project was Ackroyd, an unconventional detective-type novel in which the characters are too human to keep their traditional roles as props for the detective's cleverness. The book is less suspenseful than a standard detective novel, but more revealing of human nature.
One of the things that has been in my work for many years," says Feiffer, "is people's need to communicate with each other not directly, but in code. ... Coded language is used to guide our lives, to frame our relationships with people." Feiffer's main character takes the name Roger Ackroyd and tries to become a private detective. Instead he gets "so intertwined with the coded life of his clients that he works on that for the rest of his career."
Ackroyd got extremely mixed reviews. "It's what I'm used to," notes the author. "Some reviews have been glowing. Others wondered what the hell the book was about and why I bothered to write it." Feiffer takes the good and the bad in stride, remembering what happened when his first play, Little Murders, opened on Broadway in 1967.
"It got all negative reviews and closed in a week," he recalls. "It was immediately done in London after that, which started the revival, because it was done very successfully. Then it was brought back to New York the following year and it won all the awards." In 1971 it was made into a successful film starring Elliott Gould and Marcia Rodd.
An occasional theatregoer, Feiffer ends the interview on a customary depressing note, saying that he is generally disappointed by even the biggest hits in town.
"I don't think of myself as a Broadway playwright," he says. "I'd be ashamed of that title. I don't think the Broadway theatre is very interesting or has been for the last 20 years."
|EASTSIDER GERALDINE FITZGERALD||[Back to Top]|
Anyone hearing her rasping, throaty, Irish-accented voice for the first time might think she were suffering from laryngitis. But those who have come to love and admire Geraldine Fitzgerald over the past 40 years hear nothing but earthy humanity in the voice. One of the most versatile actresses in America, as unorthodox as she is gifted, Miss Fitzgerald at 66 remains at the height of her career, constantly juggling a variety of projects, as she says, "like somebody cooking a meal with many courses."
We're sitting in her Upper East Side living room, which is decorated in white from floor to ceiling -- carpet, chairs, tables, sofa, and even the television. The only picture is a childhood portrait of her daughter Susan Scheftel, now a 27-year-old graduate student.
"I like light unimpeded," explains Geraldine, her rosy face breaking into its customary smile. "And if everything is white, it's different in the morning and it's different in the middle of the day, and it's different all the time."
A slender, handsome woman with a penchant for long flowing skirts and bright lipstick, whose straight gray hair descends halfway down her back, Geraldine is soon talking about Mass Appeal, the two-character play that she is directing at the Manhattan Theatre Club; it will open in mid-May. "It's by a very young author called Bill Davis. We did it last October at the Circle Rep Lab, and it was very successful, but it needed strengthening points. So Bill has just completed the ninth draft. ... Milo O'Shea is going to star in it. He's Ireland's premier comedian and a magnificent dramatic actor too."
Miss Fitzgerald's next acting role will be in a play titled Eve. "It's about a woman who runs away from home to seek her own internal freedom, like Nora in A Doll's House. The only difference is, she's my age. So of course her options are few. And she goes right down to the bottom: she becomes a derelict. And then slowly, slowly, slowly she comes up to find some kind of strength and independence. It's a drama, but a very comedic drama."
Her third major project at the moment is to prepare her acclaimed one-woman show, Street Songs, for a small Broadway house such as the Rialto.
She started to take singing lessons about 10 years ago, and introduced her one-woman nightclub act in 1975, employing her remarkable acting technique to make the songs personal and moving. She has performed the act at Reno Sweeney, at Lincoln Center, in a one-hour special for public television, and at the White House for President and Mrs. Carter.
"I don't sing what's called `folk songs.' People think I do. I sing songs that are very -- winning. Because the songs that people sing when they're on their own -- whether singing in the streets, singing in the shower, singing in the car -- they do not sing losing songs. We didn't know that for a long time. `We' is Richard Maltby Jr., who did Ain't Misbehavin'. He's my colleague and partner and he directed it.
"At first we couldn't understand why a marvelous song like `Loch Lomond' was sort of rejected by the audience, and then a song like `Danny Boy', that you'd think everybody's sick of, was acceptable. Well, `Danny Boy,' believe it or not, is a winning song. At the end of it, the girl says, `Even if I'm dead, if you come back and you whisper that you love me still, I'll hear you in my grave.' And then I'll know that you'll be beside me for eternity. Whereas `Loch Lomond' starts off so well, but each verse says `But me and my true love will never meet again ... "
She began her acting career at the Gate Theatre in Dublin while in her teens, came to the U.S. in 1937, and acted with Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air before heading for Hollywood, where she made such classic films as Dark Victory, Watch on the Rhine, and Wuthering Heights, for which she received an Oscar nomination. In 1946 she settled on Manhattan's East Side, and has been based there ever since, although she frequently returns to Hollywood to act in movies.
Perhaps even better known for her stage roles, she names Eugene O'Neill's poignant, autobiographical Long Day's Journey Into Night as her favorite play. When it was revived Off Broadway in 1971, her portrayal of the morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone became the biggest hit of her stage career. Miss Fitzgerald has recorded this play and others for Caedmon Records.
Married to Stuart Scheftel, a wealthy executive and producer, she has one son from a previous marriage, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the hugely successful young director who was nominated for a Tony Award for Whose Life is this Anyway? Miss Fitzgerald is the first actress ever to receive the Handel Medallion, New York's highest cultural award.
If Geraldine has one regret about her career, it is that it took her "so many decades to get up the courage to sing. Everybody told me not to, because I have such a funny voice. ... Then I realized that I needed a vehicle for expressing what I feel about the world and about people that was very flexible, and was mine. And if the audience would put up with the harsh sounds, then I could use it. And evidently they can, so if they can now, I guess they always could."
|EASTSIDER JOAN FONTAINE||[Back to Top]|
The Oscar statuette stands on the end of a shelf about eight feet off the floor, partially obscured by a row of books, its gold surface gleaming dully in the subdued light of the room. Below, in one of the apartment's four fireplaces, a small log is softly burning. This room, like the rest of the large, immaculate home, is furnished in the style of an early 20th century country manor. Here, in the heart of the Upper East Side, Joan Fontaine has spent 15 years of an immensely productive life. I take a seat on one side of the fire, and Miss Fontaine faces me from the opposite side of the room, her slender, regal form resting comfortably in an antique chair, to talk about her best-selling autobiography, No Bed Of Roses (Morrow, $9.95). Published in September, the book has already sold more than 75,000 copies in hardcover.
As the title implies, Miss Fontaine's life has been one long roller coaster ride of triumph and tragedy. During the 1940s she received three Oscar nominations for Best Actress in the space of four years, and won the award for Suspicion (1941). She had the joy of raising two children -- one of them adopted -- but the disappointment of four divorces. Her mother, who died in 1975, was the best friend she has ever known, yet both her father and her stepfather gave her nothing but unhappiness, and she never had a close relationship with her famous older sister, Olivia de Havilland. In fact, the pair have not spoken in years -- for reasons clearly explained in Fontaine's book.
A fiercely independent woman who has flown her own airplane and taken part in international ballooning competition, she has suffered through numerous illnesses and injuries that brought her close to permanent disability or death. These are the elements of No Bed Of Roses, a disarmingly frank memoir that is frequently unsettling but never boring.
"The fan mail for this book is getting to be enormous," says Fontaine, still radiant at 61. "A lot of people identify with the illnesses, or with trying to bring up children alone. Some people empathize because they had harsh relations with their siblings. A lot of men have told me they cried at the end, in my epitaph to my mother. And then of course, I have heard from a lot of people who wanted to be actresses, or actors."
Did she write the entire book herself? "Every single word. I wouldn't let them touch one of them. ... It's not a sordid book; it's not tacky. One reviewer said it was immoral. I don't think I can figure that out. If you ask me, it's rather religious."
The words come out like perfect silver beads. She has always been a formidable presence on the screen, and is no less so in person, as she gives her unrestrained opinions on every topic introduced.
Marriage, says Fontaine, is "waiting on -- or waiting for somebody." Asked whether she believes two average people can remain happily married for a lifetime, she replies: "It depends how hypocritical they are, and how much lying they want to do. ... I think the word `love' means an entirely different thing to a woman than it does to a man."
Her classic movies, including Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Suspicion, and This Above All, are frequently seen on television now, but Fontaine has little respect for television as a medium: "I consider it nothing more than B pictures. I think we took a little more care with B pictures; the actors and actresses got a chance. In a television film, if the actor slips on a word, to hell with it. We'll cut around it."
Earlier this year, Fontaine appeared in the made-for-television movie The Users, starring Jaclyn Smith. She could do many others, but prefers to be choosy. "The quality of the scripts is so poor. I think it's the taste of the times. It's a brutal world; it's a vulgar world. ... It's quite different from the romance of Jane Eyre. I don't think I could act those roles. I'd rather sit in my library in front of the fire."
In truth, she has little time for sitting around: her acting talents are too much in demand, in dinner theatres and in college auditoriums around the country. Recently she returned from a three-month working trip. In February she'll be opening in Dallas. "I haven't decided on the play yet," she says.
In spite of her words, she somehow comes off as being thoroughly charming. A highly sociable woman who loves to attend cocktail parties and make new acquaintances, Fontaine is also a gourmet cook. "At Christmas I cook for about 75 people. No one married can come. I'm thrilled that one of my friends has just gotten divorced. Now she can come." Among the Eastside restaurants that Fontaine visits frequently are 21 and the Four Seasons.
When she has time to herself, Fontaine enjoys reading literature and adapting it for her lectures. "I lecture on many subjects," she says. "I do the entire Jane Eyre -- all the roles. It takes about an hour and a half. It's more like a film reading than a lecture. I do one on American poets, and one on Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning -- all their own words. Then a new one has crept up -- if I may say so, by popular demand -- called `The Golden Years.' I tell how to do it -- how to make these years the best. I've never felt so happy or so free or so contented as I am now."
|WESTSIDER BETTY FRIEDAN||[Back to Top]|
One of the most-discussed nonfiction works published in 1978 was The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by astrophysicist Michael H. Hart. He writes: "My criterion was neither fame nor talent nor nobility of character, but actual personal influence on the course of human history and on the everyday lives of individuals." Seven native-born Americans were included in the 100, and when People magazine requested Hart to expand his list of Americans to 25, the first name he added was that of Betty Friedan, who, he said, "through women's liberation, has already had a greater impact than most presidents."
The book that did most to trigger the women's movement was Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963), a brilliant analysis of the postwar "back to the home" movement, when women were led to believe that they could find fulfillment only through childbearing and housework. That myth, said Friedan, resulted in a sense of emptiness and loss of identity for millions of American women. Her book became an international best-seller, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
But The Feminine Mystique was only the first of many contributions that Friedan has made to the women's movement. In 1966 she founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), which today has more than 70,000 members and is by far the most effective feminist group in the world. She has written a second book, It Changed My Life, made countless appearances on radio and television, and become one of the most sought-after lecturers in the country. Despite her public image as a hard-core activist, Betty Friedan at 58 is a charming, decidedly feminine woman who enjoys wearing makeup and colorful dresses. In an interview at her brightly decorated apartment high above Lincoln Center, she reveals that these two aspects of her personality are not at all contradictory.
"The women's movement had to come. It was an evolutionary thing," she says, in robust, throaty, rapid-fire bursts of speech interspersed with long pauses. "If I had not articulated these ideas in 1963, by '66 somebody else would have. I think that it's good that I did, because what I had to say somehow got to the essence of it, which is the personhood of woman, and not what later obscured it, with a woman-against-man kind of thing."
It was largely through the lobbying efforts of NOW that the U.S. Senate last October approved a three-year extension of the deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). So far, 35 of the required 38 states have voted for the amendment. The new deadline is June 30, 1982.
"There's no question that three more states will pass it by that time," says Friedan. "But it's not going to be easy, because there are these well-financed right-wing campaigns trying to block it. They understand that the ERA is not only the symbol but the substance of what women have won -- that it will give them constitutional underpinning forevermore, so that they can't push women back to the second-class status of the cheap labor pool.
"The ERA will not do anything dramatic -- like change the bathrooms -- but it will ensure, for example, that women have their own right for social security, which they don't have now. You have to realize that the reactionary forces in this country are using the sexual issue as a kind of smoke screen, to create a hate movement. They're the same forces that tried to prevent labor from organizing, that burnt crosses on lawns in the South, that painted swastikas on synagogues. ... NOW has made it the priority, because if the ERA is blocked, it will be the signal to take back everything."
A woman who smiles and laughs easily in spite of her intensity, Friedan prefers to be called not Miss, Ms., or Mrs., but simply Betty. Born in Peoria, Illinois, she majored in psychology at Smith College and graduated summa cum laude. In June, 1947, after moving to New York City, she married Carl Friedan, then a theatrical producer. Three children later, the Friedans moved to the suburbs, and it was there that she formulated the ideas for The Feminine Mystique.
Divorced since 1969, Friedan maintains a very close relationship with her children, who are at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley graduate school, and Harvard Medical School. A Westsider since 1964, she runs in Central Park for an hour each day.
Of the half dozen major projects she's involved in at the moment, the most significant is her new book, The Fountain of Age. "It's about the last third of life," she explains. "I call it the new third of life, because many women have only begun to discover that it exists."
Asked about her chief pleasures in life, she replies with obvious satisfaction, "I like parties, I like my friends, I like talking, I like dancing. ... One thing I've discovered is that the stronger you get, the more you can be soft and gentle and tender, and also have fun. I demand my right to be funny and to have fun, and not just to always be deadly serious."
|WESTSIDER ARTHUR FROMMER||[Back to Top]|
His name rhymes with "roamer" and that's an accurate description of Westsider Arthur Frommer, author of Europe on $10 a Day.
In 1957, when he wrote the first edition, Europe On $5 a Day, Arthur was a dedicated New York lawyer. But the book became so popular that he finally decided, after much agonizing, to leave his law firm and become a full-time travel writer. Every year in the past two decades, Arthur and his wife Hope have revisited the 17 European cities covered in the book; they have distilled the wisdom from thousands of letters received from readers; and they have revised and updated the famous travel book for the new edition each spring. It is still the world's best-selling guide to Europe.
"This is not necessarily the glamorous occupation that some people imagine it to be," says Arthur, biting into a sandwich as he, Hope and their daughter Pauline invite me to join them at the dinner table at their Central Park West home. "One of the hazards of being a travel writer is that when you're on vacation, you're always checking to see where the bargains are, or whether the restaurants are worth their reputation. I've visited so many exotic cities of the world that for me, the best way to relax is to stay home."
Due to a miscommunication on my part, I arrive on an evening exactly one week later than the Frommers have expected me, yet they manage such a warm welcome that I end up staying three hours. They seem to have plenty of time to talk. Still, there is a reminder throughout the evening that they lead very busy lives -- the constantly ringing telephone.
One reason for my lengthy visit is that it takes place on the same night as the second heavyweight championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks. Arthur and I sit on his living room couch, watching the fight live on TV with great interest, rooting for Ali and resuming our interview between the rounds. Ali, who had lost the first fight with Spinks the previous February, beats him handily this time.
"I'm a workaholic," confesses Arthur, excusing himself while he gets up to answer another call from overseas. An energetic, detail-oriented man, Arthur once worked 12 hours a day writing legal briefs and eight hours a day on his book. Today he is the head of Arthur Frommer Enterprises, an international corporation that includes a publishing company, a charter service and four hotels -- two in the Caribbean and two in Europe.
Publishing remains his biggest enterprise. He publishes 30 to 40 travel guides each year, ranging in subject matter from the Far East to New York City. Europe On $10 A Day has for many years been co-authored by his wife Hope. "While Arthur is on the streets grubbing for bargains," she says, "I'm in the museums."
With her own career as an actress and director, Hope does not fly the Atlantic quite as often as her husband. Says Arthur: "I go to Europe like other people commute to Long Island. Sometimes I go without even a change of clothes."
Twelve-year-old Pauline Frommer made her first trip to Europe at the age of two and a half months. Bright and precocious, she seems a natural to succeed her father in the business one day.
Arthur Frommer's success story began shortly after he graduated from Yale Law School in 1953. While serving in the Army in Europe, he used every weekend to travel. "At the end of my stay in the Army," he recalls, "having nothing to do, I sat down and wrote a little volume called The GI Guide to Europe. It was written strictly from memory; it had no prices or phone numbers. I went home and started practicing law. Then I got a cable saying that all 50,000 copies had sold out immediately."
Arthur used his first summer vacation from the law firm to go back to Europe and rewrite his travel guide, for civilian readers. It became "a monster which ate up my life." But he has never regretted his choice of careers.
"The book coincided with a revolution of American travel habits," says Arthur, not giving himself credit for being a prime force behind this revolution. "When I was in college, it was unheard of for young people to go off to Europe. It was too far, too expensive. The students of the early 1960s became the first students in history to travel in great numbers to Europe. Many people think the country was greatly changed by this massive travel."
Arthur and Hope moved to the West Side in 1965, just after their daughter was born. Among their favorite neighborhood businesses: DelPino Shoes, which has some of the lowest prices in the city for quality Italian footwear, and the Jean Warehouse, where Pauline buys many of her clothes.
These days, while Hope is busy directing a play by Pamela O'Neill, Arthur is working on several new projects. One is a course he will be teaching at the New School starting in February. Titled "Great Cities of Western Europe," the course will concentrate on urban problems and their political and social solutions.
But Arthur's biggest ambition these days is to expand his company's week-long chartered tour of Jerusalem into a two-week package for Jerusalem and Cairo. Such a tour, he believes, would help create a bond of understanding in the Middle East.
"It's a dream of mine," says Arthur, "that we might be a force for peace sometime. It may not happen overnight, but I'm sure it will come."
|EASTSIDER WILLIAM GAINES||[Back to Top]|
Mad magazine, an institution in American humor ever since it first appeared in 1955, is one of the few publications on the newsstand that carries no advertising. In the past few years, rising costs and changing tastes have driven Mad's circulation slightly below two million, but publisher William Gaines has no plans of giving in to commercialism.
"I was brought up on a newspaper called PM," recalls Gaines, an instantly likable native New Yorker who looks like a cross between Santa Claus and a middle-aged hippie. "It sold for a nickel while everything else was two cents. Its policy was to take no ads, and I was kind of brought up on the idea that it's dirty to take advertising." His face breaks out in merriment, and he laughs the first of many deep, rich, belly laughs that I am to hear that afternoon.
"I don't think your publication's going to want to print that, so you'd better leave it out. Um, so I, I. ... I mean, it's not " he sputters, before quickly recovering and driving the point home with his customary journalistic finesse. "As a matter of fact, if you're going to take ads, I think the way your people do it is the way to do it. If you're going to take ads, give the publication away. But if somebody's putting out money, it's not right. It's like going to the movies and seeing a commercial. Television, fine: you're getting it free."
We're sitting in his somewhat disorderly Madison Avenue office, which is decorated with paintings of monsters, huge models of King Kong, and a collection of toy zeppelins suspended from the ceiling. When Gaines is asked about lawsuits, his eyes sparkle with glee.
"We have been sued many times. We've never been beaten. We had two cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The first was on Alfred E. Newman (the gap-toothed, moronic-looking character who appears on the magazine cover). Two different people claimed it was theirs -- a woman by the name of Stuff and a man by the name of Schmeck. Neither one knew about the other one, and we didn't tell them. It was pretty fun when they all got to court and found that both of them were claiming to own Alfred. Through a series of decisions, the Supreme Court decided that neither one of them owned Alfred, and we were free to use him.
"The other case was when Irving Berlin and a number of other songwriters sued Mad, because we used to publish a lot of articles of song parodies which we'd say were sung to the tune of so-and-so. And they took umbrage to that. They said that when people would read the words, they were singing their music in their heads. The judge ruled that Irving Berlin did not own iambic pentameter."
The son of a prominent comic book publisher named M.C. Gaines, William planned to become a chemistry teacher when he returned to college after World War II. Then his father was killed in an accident, and Gaines decided to enter the comic business himself. "I started putting out some very undistinguished, dreadful stuff, because I didn't know where I was going. After three years, Albert Feldstein (Mad's editor) joined me, and we just had a rapport right away. We started putting out stuff that we had a feeling for -- science fiction, horror, crime."
These comics, known as E.C. Publications, are today worth up to $200 each. Classics of their genre, they became the target of a Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency. Largely because of public pressure, Gaines dropped all of them except Mad, which he changed from a 10-cent comic into a 25-cent, more adult magazine. The complete E.C. works have recently been reprinted in bound volumes.
A divorced father of three, Bill Gaines hates exercise, and drives the 18 blocks each day from his Eastside apartment to the Mad office. His favorite hobbies are attending wine and food tastings, and visiting Haiti. "I've been there about 20 times. It's a wild, untamed place. Something in my nature is appealed to by that kind of thing. ... They have no maliciousness toward tourists. I was almost shot there twice, but it was by mistake."
Things are so relaxed around the Mad headquarters that eight out of the nine full-time staffers have been with the publication for more than 20 years. "Our writers and artists are free-lancers," says Gaines. "Most of them have been with us 20 years also. ... We get quite a few unsolicited manuscripts, but most of them, unfortunately, are not usable. Every once in a while we'll get one, and then we've got a big day of rejoicing. ... We're always looking for writers. We don't need artists, but you never have enough writers. And we firmly believe that the writer is God, because if you don't have a writer, you don't have movies, you don't have television, you don't have books, you don't have plays, you don't have magazines, you don't have comics -- you don't have anything!
"We don't assign articles. The writers come to us with what they want to write, and as long as it's funny, we'll buy it. And we don't care what point of view, because Mad has no editorial point of view. We're not left, and we're not right. We're all mixed up. And our writers are all mixed up -- in more ways than one."
|WESTSIDER RALPH GINZBURG||[Back to Top]|
Less than two months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court passed an edict allowing the police to raid the files of newspaper offices in search of information relating to a crime. "If they came here, I'd stand at the entrance and block their way," says Ralph Ginzburg, gazing out the window at his suite of offices near Columbus Circle. "I don't care if they arrest me," he adds in his thick Brooklyn accent.
The owlish-looking Ginzburg means what he says. He's the publisher of Moneysworth, which is mailed each month to 1.2 million subscribers. It is the most successful item he has ever published, but there is no doubt that he would risk losing it and going to jail, because Ginzburg has done so already. In a flamboyant career marked by much notoriety, he has emerged as one of the most important figures of his generation in expanding the freedom of the press.
Of the six magazines and newspapers that Ginzburg has founded, none has caused such a stir as his first one, Eros, which lasted from 1962 to 1963. "It was the first really classy magazine on love and sex in American history," he says. "I signed up 100,000 subscribers right away, at $50 a year. Many leading American artists contributed to it. The big difference is that it was sold entirely through the mails. Our promotion of subscriptions through the mail got a lot of complaints."
About 35,000 complaints, in fact -- more than the U.S. Post Office had ever received up to that time. Ralph Ginzburg was charged with sending obscene material through the mails, and Eros was forced to suspend publication while the debate went on. Most Washington lawyers, after examining the magazine, concluded that it was not obscene. But the case became a political issue, and in 1972, 10 years after the so-called crime had taken place, Ginzburg was ordered to serve an eight-month term at the federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. His imprisonment led to a nationwide outcry by intellectuals and public officials.
Not long after the demise of Eros, Ginzburg started another magazine called Fact. It, too, ended over a lawsuit. This time the plaintiff was U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater. He sued the magazine for $2 million on the charge of libel, and was awarded $65,000 in damages. "It was a compromise, as jury decisions frequently are," remarks Ginzburg. "Unfortunately I didn't have very much money back then, and it wiped us out."
Describing the case, he said: "In 1964, when Goldwater was running for president, he advocated the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam. I thought the guy was out of his mind and I wondered if anyone else had the same suspicion. ... We polled all the members of the American Medical Association who were listed as psychiatrists and asked them if they thought Goldwater was fit to be president. We printed their replies and their long-distance diagnoses ... "
Both the Eros case and the Goldwater case made the American public examine some far-reaching questions: What is obscene? What is libelous? Ginzburg helped to establish new definitions for these terms, and in so doing, widened the power of the press.
Avant-Garde, his third publication, existed from 1967 to 1970. "It was born during the Vietnam uprising in this country," he explains. "It was a magazine of art and politics, and had no ad revenue."
In the same year that Avant-Garde folded, he began a newsletter called Moneysworth. Soon it expanded into a full-sized newspaper. "It was launched," says Ginzburg, "because we felt that the only existing periodical in the area of consumer interest -- Consumer Reports -- wasn't broad enough. Spending money is more than buying appliances."
While Moneysworth does carry many valuable tips on personal finance, it also has a considerable amount of sensationalism that would seem at home in the National Enquirer. Even so, Ginzburg's managerial skills, his nonstop working habits, and his literary expertise -- he has written several books -- have made Moneysworth a winner. Using the same staff of 40, along with many free-lance writers, he now publishes two other monthly newspapers as well, American Business and Extra!
He has been a Westsider for 15 years, and his publishing company, Avant-Garde Media, is located on West 57th Street.
If Ginzburg has a single goal right now, it's "to saved up enough money to enable me to put out a periodical exactly like Avant-Garde was. It was pure pleasure for me: there was no commercial compromise. But even though this is a multimillion-dollar corporation here, I can't afford it at the moment. ... Money is important in publishing. I have to spend 99 percent of my time and effort chasing the buck. I guess I'm lucky. Most people spend 100 percent of their time that way."
|EASTSIDER LILLIAN GISH||[Back to Top]|
D.W. Griffith, the father of motion pictures, used to say there were only two people who outworked him -- Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. Pickford, who died last May, made her final film in 1933. But Lillian Gish never got around to retiring. At 83, she is perhaps the most active living legend in America.
Sipping tea at her Eastside apartment, which is decorated like a Victorian drawing room, Gish appears to have defeated time. Her clear blue eyes, porcelain-smooth complexion, and slender, girlish figure have not changed all that much since she rose to international stardom in Griffith's controversial 1915 classic, The Birth of a Nation. She also starred in his 1916 film Intolerance, a box office failure when released, but later recognized as a masterpiece.
An animated speaker who makes sweeping gestures, she still has the crystalline voice and flawless enunciation that enabled her to make the transition from silent films to talkies and Broadway shows in the early 1930s. The 1978 Robert Altman film A Wedding marked her 100th screen appearance.
"I've never worked harder in my life than I have in the last three or four years," says Miss Gish, who, during that period has made her singing and dancing debut in Washington's Kennedy Center, hosted a 13-week series for public television, The Silent Years, appeared in an ABC-TV movie of the week, and toured the world three times to present a one-woman show that combines film clips with narration. Her autobiography, The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me, has been translated into 13 languages.
"I dedicated the book to my mother, who gave me love; to my sister, who taught me to laugh; to my father, who gave me insecurity; and to Mr. Griffith, who taught me that it was more fun to work than to play," she recalls with merriment, describing how her mother wound up in the theatre around 1901 due to financial need. Five-year-old Lillian and her 4-year-old sister Dorothy soon followed in the business. "We didn't use our real names because we didn't want to disgrace the family. ... They used to have signs on hotels: `No actors or dogs allowed.'"
She never got a chance to attend school. "I loved the book Black Beauty, and everybody would read it to me on the train or waiting for the train. Well, I finally had it read to me so much, I knew it by heart. And that's how I learned to read. When we were travelling around, mother would always take her history book. When we were in historical places, she'd take us to where history happened."
At the height of her silent film career, Lillian received 15,000 fan letters a week, many from overseas. "Silent films are the universal language that the Bible predicted would bring about the millennium. ... When Mr. Griffith made his first talking picture in 1921, he said, `This is committing suicide. My pictures play to the world. Five percent of them speak English. Why should I lose 95 percent of my audience?'
"One of the things I'm trying to do now is to bring back silent films and beautiful music. I'm doing it with my film La Boheme, which was made in 1926. I've done it in the opera house in Chicago with an organist, and at Town Hall here. Harold Schonberg of the New York Times gave it the most ecstatic review."
Her credits include an honorary Oscar award, dozens of major stage roles, and a movie that she co-wrote and directed. But Miss Gish, with characteristic modesty, prefers to talk about her friends and family. Bitterness and complaint are alien to her nature, although life has not always been easy. She never married, and her mother, to whom she was highly devoted, spent the last 25 years of her life as an invalid. "But she was never unhappy," testifies Lillian. "She was always the first to laugh, and the gayest."
Following her mother's death in 1948, the apartment was given to Dokey, her nurse, who died the following year. Then Lillian and Dorothy Gish shared the apartment until Dorothy's death in 1968. Although Lillian now lives alone, she has no opportunity to be lonely. Besides work, travel, and reading -- her favorite activities -- she has 13 godchildren.
One thing that helps keep her young, says Miss Gish, is her intense curiosity. "I was born with it, thank heavens. I feel sorry for people who say they're bored. How in the world can anyone be bored in the world today? How can fiction complete with what's going on?"
A few of her films, have been lost forever, since no original prints exist in good condition. Most, however, are still shown around the globe, which explains why her autobiography is available in such languages as Burmese and East Malaysian. The Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street has one of the country's finest collections of vintage Gish films.
One of her upcoming projects is a movie based on a story by the Danish writer Isak Dinesen, scheduled to begin shooting in Europe this winter. Another is a television pilot to be shot in California for Julius Evans.
Asked to name some of the things she is most curious about today, Miss Gish quickly replies, "Naturally what's happening in Cambodia -- how they're going to solve that problem. Those poor children. It breaks my heart. ... And who's going to be our next president. We've come to the point where we should have two presidents, I think -- someone to look after the world and somebody to look after us."
|WESTSIDER MILTON GLASER||[Back to Top]|
Two decades before Playboy first hit the newsstands, there was only one men's magazine in America. A generation of schoolchildren grew up speaking its name in hushed whispers, though anyone reexamining those early issues today could hardly understand why. The magazine was Esquire.
Its popularity has dipped somewhat in recent years, but Esquire still sells one million copies per month. And it still has the reputation of being the most tasteful, literary, and sophisticated publication for the American male. If some people have complained that it has not kept up with the times, they won't be able to say that any longer -- not since Esquire became the property of Clay Felker and Milton Glaser, the publishing team who made New York magazine into one of the best-selling weeklies in the city.
With Felker as editor and Glaser as design director, Esquire will have a totally new look starting with the February 14 issue. It will have a different size, binding, shape, length, and contents. It will also change its name to Esquire Fortnightly and appear 26 times a year instead of 12.
"The new Esquire will be ungimmicky, easy to understand," says Milton Glaser, taking a half-hour break from his numerous artistic projects. He is as animated as his enlarged signature, which glows from a custom-made neon lamp on the wall beside a Renaissance Madonna and a framed Islamic drawing.
The first thing you notice about Glaser is the colored handkerchief adorning his jacket pocket. Then you notice how relaxed he is, and how easily he smiles.
"The name of the game is to get an audience that identifies with the magazine and feels it's on their side. People buy a magazine because it's of considerable interest to them, not because they get a deal on the subscription. ... What you want to do is to find the right-size audience, made up of people who believe in the values that the magazine reflects."
The original Esquire, Glaser points out, helped to glamorize the rich, privileged man of the world -- the man who had arrived, who knew his place in the world, and whose greatest desire was to surround himself with the symbols of wealth, such as fancy cars and beautiful women.
Today, says Glaser, the American male no longer measures success by symbols alone. Rather, he aims for self-development, for the richness of life itself -- professional, personal, physical, intellectual and spiritual.
Clay Felker writes, in a yet-unreleased editorial in Esquire: "We will explore how a man can develop a more rewarding life with the women and children in his life. ... I see Esquire magazine as a cheery, book-filled, comfortable den, a place of wit and sparkling conversation, of goodwill and genial intelligence, where thoughtful discussions take place and wise conclusions are reached."
Milton Glaser is probably the best-qualified artist in America to redesign Esquire. Besides his success with New York magazine, which began as a Sunday supplement to the old New York Herald Tribune, Glaser has designed The Village Voice, Circus magazine, New West and two of France's leading publications, L'Express and Paris-Match.
Glaser's posters have sold in the millions. He has put on one-man exhibitions in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. (He believes, in fact, that his work is more appreciated abroad than at home). He has designed everything from stores to toys to new typefaces.
He is a faculty member at both Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts. He is responsible for all the graphic design and decorative programs at the World Trade Center. Two volumes of his works have been published -- Milton Glaser: Graphic Arts and The Milton Glaser Poster Book.
In addition, he is a noted food critic. For the past 10 years he has co-authored and constantly updated the best-selling Manhattan restaurant guide, The Underground Gourmet.
A native New Yorker, Milton Glaser has fond memories of his boyhood in the Bronx. He especially likes recalling an event that took place in 1933 -- the year that Esquire was founded.
"When I was 4 years old, a cousin of mine said, `Would you like to see a pigeon?' He had a paper bag with him and I thought he meant there was a pigeon in it. But then he took out a pencil and drew a picture of a bird. I was so astonished that you could invent reality that I never recovered from it. The only thing I wanted to do in my life was to make images."
Milton and his wife, Shirley, moved to the West Side last August. "I guess it was the opportunity to find the right physical space. I like the neighborhood because of the mix of working class, middle class, and upper class. ... That really is the richest thing the urban scene offers." The number of Westside restaurants listed in The Underground Gourmet has sharply increased over the years. Among his favorite dining spots of all price ranges are Ying's on Columbus Avenue (at 70th St.), the Cafe des Artistes (1 West 67th St.), and the Harbin Inn (2637 Broadway).
Look in any New York subway station and you'll see a poster advertising the School of Visual Arts. It shows two identical men in a room. One is lying on a bed and the other is floating in the air. The caption reads: "Having a talent isn't worth much unless you know what to do with it." Milton Glaser, the designer of that poster, is a supreme example of a man with many talents who knows what to do with all of them.
|WESTSIDER PAUL GOLDBERGER||[Back to Top]|
"What is architecture? It's the whole built environment. It's the outside of a building, the inside, the function; it serves social needs, physical needs. ... And a building has an obligation to work well with the buildings around it -- at least in the city."
The speaker is Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times. His immaculate suit and tie, refined manners, dry wit, and somewhat formal way of speaking seem to mark him a Timesman even more than the carefully researched, colorfully written articles that have poured out of his pen in the last four years.
As a critic, Goldberger is accustomed to vocalizing opinions and facts in equal measure. His open-mindedness on architectural styles is demonstrated by his apartment, a lavish, ultramodernized suite of high-ceilinged rooms inside one of the oldest buildings on Central Park West. The interview begins with a trick question: "What is the third tallest building in New York?" (Answer: the Empire State Building.) He fields it without cracking a smile.
"I guess the question is, do you consider the World Trade Center two buildings?" he says. "I guess it's like asking whether Grover Cleveland was two presidents or one because he served two non-consecutive terms. ... The World Trade Center was not necessary built functionally or very pleasing aesthetically. It was built as a kind of symbol of power by the Port Authority. I'm used to it now; human beings can adapt to anything. I even like going to the restaurant at the top and the restaurant at the bottom. It's the floors in the middle I don't like."
He points to the new Citicorp Center on East 53rd Street as an example of modern architecture at its best, and the mosquelike Cultural Center at Columbus Circle as an example of the opposite. "It's pretty horrible," says the critic, agreeing with a newspaper writer who recently labeled the Cultural Center one of the 12 ugliest buildings in Manhattan. "It's a very silly building; it's so obviously dumb. But it doesn't particularly bother me. It's almost innocent, it's so silly."
Lincoln Center, too, draws his barbs. "I find it very pretentious. Rather boring, really. It's a set of imitations of classical themes. The buildings are an unfortunate compromise because the builders were afraid to build something really modern, or to design something that really looked like a classical building. ... There's a feeling that they sort of want to be modern and sort of want to be classical and end up being a very unsatisfying compromise."
A New Jersey native who developed a passion for architecture in his earliest years, Paul Goldberger attended Yale University and then worked as a general reporter for another newspaper. Several years later he became an editorial assistant for the Times. In 1973 there came an opening for an architectural writer, and because the Times knew of his background, Goldberger was given the first shot at the job. "It was fabulous," he recalls, because it was what I always wanted to do. And it was very much a matter of luck -- of being at the right place at the right time." His articles appear most often in the daily Times; Louise Huxtable remains the chief architectural writer for the Sunday paper.
Why would a sophisticated Timesman choose the West Side over the East? "There are many more wonderful buildings on the West Side," says Goldberger. Unfortunately not many of the buildings on the West Side have been kept up as well as the East Side. ... In terms of apartment-house architecture, Central Park West is probably the best street in New York. It has all the grandeur and beauty and monumentality of Fifth Avenue and it also has the relaxed atmosphere."
There's not one West Side," he continues. "There's at least 10. Around here is one neighborhood. Riverside Drive is another. Up by Columbia is another. ... One of the reasons I like my own neighborhood is because though it is very much West Side, it's handy to the East Side and midtown. I walk through the park all the time."
Any chance that Manhattan's skyscrapers will eventually weigh down the island? "No," replies the critic emphatically. "First, the island is very, very solid rock and nothing could cause it to sink. The other factor, especially today, is that buildings are not all that heavy, because they're being built with lighter materials and more modern engineering methods. So a huge new building like the Citicorp, which is 900 feet high, is not any heavier than a building 500 feet high built 30 years ago. And since we don't have earthquakes, this is probably the safest environment in the world to build a skyscraper."
Although studying and writing about architecture is "more than a full-time job," Goldberger manages to keep abreast of the legal aspects of buildings as well, including tenants' rights, rent control, zoning laws and redlining. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is another of his interests. "I think landmarking is crucial to the city," he testifies. "A city exists in time as much as space. It's the mixture of new and old buildings that gives the city life and vitality."
|EASTSIDER MILTON GOLDMAN||[Back to Top]|
"Pardon me -- just one more call to make," said Milton Goldman, pushing the buttons on his nearest desk phone. "Go on, you can ask me questions at the same time," he added, holding the receiver to his ear.
"Are you the biggest theatrical agent in the world?" I said. He returned my gaze evenly.
"Others have said it. It would be immodest for me to say it -- but I probably am," said Goldman, who by this time had reached his party and was inviting the young actress on the other end to a Broadway opening that night. He chatted with her for several minutes, his Jack Bennyish voice breaking occasionally into rich laughter.
Sitting upright behind a desk-sized table covered with papers, folders, notebooks and play scripts, the ruddy-complexioned, jacketless Goldman looked far more relaxed that I had expected of a man who, in his 32 years as an agent, has handled the careers of close to 5,000 actors and actresses. Among those he has helped "discover" are Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Grace Kelly, Lee Marvin, Charlton Heston and Faye Dunaway. And though Goldman has become a celebrity in his own right, he still exudes the low-keyed charm of a friendly neighbor talking over a fence.
The appearance is no deception: he owes his success not to high-pressure tactics, but to an encyclopedic knowledge of the theatre on both sides of the Atlantic, a keen judgment of which shows are best for his clients, and a long-proven record for trustworthiness. By title, he is vice president in charge of the theatrical division of International Creative Management, which is matched in size only by the William Morris Agency. Unofficially, he serves as father confessor, rabbi, psychiatrist, and best friend to many of the top stars he represents. Attending the theatre up to five times a week, he is always on the lookout for new clients. His weekends are devoted to reading and casting new plays.
"I can't resist talent, and when I see a talented young actor or actress, I want very much to help realize their potential by opening as many doors as I can for them," he explained, gripping the arms of his chair. "I don't think of my job as work. For me, it's fun. And I never know where the one begins and the other ends. Because I'm that lucky individual whose private life and public life are one and the same thing."
Every year he takes a vacation to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth II. "I'm in Paris for a week and London for about three weeks." In slow, carefully chosen sentences, he stated, "I represent many English clients because my knowledge of the English theatre is probably better than anyone else in the American theatre. Every year in London, I get the same suite in the Savoy Hotel and give great parties. I go to at least eight plays a week -- sometimes as many as 10. So I get to see all the plays in London. And I know all the English actors and they know me." Among his British clients: Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John Gielgud.
"American performers excel in the musical comedy theatre, where dancers and singers also very often are fine actors. This is not true in England. Dancers are especially hard to cast in London, though I think that is changing now. ... It's sad that the American theatre can't support serious plays. They're either musicals or they're comedies. I think a healthy theatre should be able to support the works of serious playwrights. This season, we happen to have on Broadway an important play by an American playwright -- Arthur Kopit's Wings, which stars our client Constance Cummings, who is an American actress who went to England and made her reputation abroad, and has now returned here to great acclaim."
A native of New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goldman witnessed his first Broadway show in the summer of 1929, and from that day forward, the theatre was his passion. For 10 years he worked as a tire salesman at a family-owned business. Then, through his friend Arnold Weissberger, a noted lawyer, Goldman was offered a job as a theatrical agent at no base salary, but with a $25 weekly expense account and a 25 percent interest in any clients he signed up. Success came to him almost at once.
A lifelong bachelor, Goldman today shares an apartment with Weissberger on the Upper East Side. His favorite local restaurant is the Four Seasons. "I go there all the time for lunch; that's my main meal of the day. I think it's the best restaurant in the world."
The actor's life, he believes, "is a sad and a difficult one. Every time you get a good part, the next part has to be bigger -- more money. As you reach the top, it becomes tougher and tougher to get those parts." Nevertheless, Goldman does not find his own job at all frustrating.
"Pressures? Yes, there are many pressures. But I have said this before: there are so many rewards for me when I see a client in whom I believe get a great break in the theatre or films of television. It's a source of great satisfaction. And with the number of clients I represent, each day brings some rewards. That's why I've often said to clients: `I have many lives to live.'"
|EASTSIDER TAMMY GRIMES||[Back to Top]|
Tammy Grimes is one of the few Broadway stars to have received Tony Awards in two categories -- for best Musical Comedy Actress in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1961), and for Best Dramatic Actress in Noel Coward's Private Lives (1969). In a sense, she is Molly Brown personified -- a powerful stage presence whose charm, beauty, and pure talent make her shine in every production she takes part in, regardless of the overall merit of the show itself.
Her disappointments have been, at times, as spectacular as her triumphs. For example, there was her shot at network television in the early 1960s, The Tammy Grimes Show, which lasted only 11 episodes because, she says, "the writing, the concept, and the talent never really got together. And I blame myself for that. Because if your name's up there, you are responsible for the product."
Her marriage to actor Christopher Plummer ended in divorce after four years, but had the happy result of producing a daughter, Amanda Plummer, who is now a successful actress herself.
Tammy played Molly Brown on Broadway for the show's entire two-year run, but the movie role went to Debbie Reynolds. She got some rave reviews for her acting in a Broadway thriller named Trick this year, but the show closed within weeks. When that happened, she quickly started working on a new show, Father's Day by Oliver Hailey, that is scheduled to open on June 21 at the American Place Theatre on West 46th Street.
"It's about three women who get together on Father's Day," says Miss Grimes in an interview at her Upper East Side apartment. "They live in the same building, and they're divorced. It shows how the three of them are coping with the situation. My feeling is that they don't want to be divorced. It's a very well-written play -- a comedy. ... It's at the same theatre where In Cold Storage started."
The interview takes place in her softly decorated bedroom looking out on a garden. Tammy is propped up on pillows beneath the covers, smoking a cigarette and sipping a bottle of Tab as she apologizes for her condition. "It may have been the caviar I had last night," she says, cheerful in spite of her discomfort. Her pixyish features expand easily into a grin, and at 45 she has lost none of the childlike playfulness that first propelled her to stardom. But the most surprising quality about Tammy Grimes is her throaty British accent. Although she has done little work in England, her normal speaking voice is far more British than American -- a fact which, for some reason, she strenuously denies. "I spent a lot of time doing British comedy," she explains, "but I don't sound British!"
A native of Lynn, Massachusetts -- "I just happened to be born on the way home from a party" -- she grew up in Boston and decided early to become an actress. When she was 16, Thornton Wilder saw her in a production of his classic play, The Skin of Our Teeth. He declared: "Young lady, even Tallulah Bankhead didn't do the things you did to the role." By her early 20s she was performing in numerous Off Broadway shows. A singing act she developed for one of New York's leading supper clubs won her a rave review in Life magazine, and shortly after her 25th birthday, she received her first starring role on Broadway, in an ill-fated Noel Coward production called Look After Lulu.
The following year, 1960, saw The Unsinkable Molly Brown reach Broadway. It was the most expensive musical ever mounted until then, and became a smash. Tammy played the role 1,800 times; she missed only 13 performances. "I believe that if you can speak, you should be up there," she says. "Even today, people will stop me and say, `We came in from North Carolina to see you, and when we got to the theatre, you weren't there.'"
As a television performer, she has appeared as a guest star in dozens of dramatic series, situation comedies, and variety shows. She has played numerous Shakespearean roles, made five movies, done a great deal of radio work, and recorded numerous albums, including several for children. An animal lover, she gives her time freely to such groups as the American Horse Protection Association and Friends of the Animals.
Tammy has been at her present East Side address since 1969. Though she likes to cook, she also frequents many restaurants including Veau d'Or and Gino's.
Asked to evaluate her career as a whole, Tammy notes that all but one of the shows she has done "seemed to open and close in a natural way. There's always a reason why a play ends prematurely. ... It's nice to please the public, but you can't constantly be thinking that they will accept this but not something else from you. You have to go by your feelings. If something is good, the public will go to see it."